Sunday, 28 January 2018
What’s Up Croc?
Directed by David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki
DVD Region 2
Warning: This one has spoilers floating upstream. If you’re my cousin or his fiancee reading this... read no further!
Black Water is a killer crocodile survival movie by directors David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki. It’s a film that my cousin (now living in Australia, where this film comes from) and his girlfriend have been recommending me for a while and which they eventually gave me for Christmas. Truth is, I’m not so hot on crocodile movies and this is actually, I think, the first one I’ve seen. So, I can honestly say one really positive thing about this movie in that, yeah, it’s definitely the best crocodile film I’ve seen to date.
Now, the Australians are known for some classic movies... I might mention Picnic At Hanging Rock, Razorback or Crocodile Dundee. Alas, I think it would be true to say that, by any stretch of the imagination, Black Water is... not exactly a classic. It’s also not technically a horror movie, to be entirely accurate but it does, at the very least, have a horrifying credits sequence.
Yep, after a short scene where the family which make up our three main protagonists say good bye to a much loved family member and head out on the road for their holiday, the real horror of the movie really takes hold as we are subjected to a truly, horrifyingly misplaced, poppy pop song over the main credits which, honestly, does this one no favours. The family consists of Andy Rodoreda as Adam, Diana Glenn as his newly pregnant but hasn't told him yet wife Grace and Maeve Dermody as her younger sister Lee. These three, it has to be said, are pretty good in their roles but they’re not supported, in my opinion, with a script decent enough to get their teeth into. I especially like Maeve Dermody who has a cute, button nose and looks ‘almost but not quite’ the dead spit of the late, great Adrienne Shelley. So there’s that.
The jauntily inappropriate title song is followed up by some pretty clichéd thriller style tropes as we have a few minutes at a crocodile farm where the show guide shows our main protagonists in the audience (and us, of course) just how deadly these water lizards are. He also, unless I was mishearing this, refers to them on his PA for his ‘family’ show of adults and children as having ‘great fuck me teeth’. I somehow don’t think he would have kept his job for long using this kind of language in front of the kiddies but, hey, it’s Australia so maybe they have different standards on stuff like this.
After that we have the obvious plot set up of them choosing to go on a tour of some local back waters in search of fishing by a tour guide called Backwater Barry. However, they’ve just missed Barry so his ‘not so able’ assistant offers to take our fearless family out on the watery swamp (filled with handy trees sticking up out of the muddy surface) and yeah, I have to admit, this just made me assume that, once the scales hit the fan, Backwater Barry would either turn up as the cavalry near the end of the picture or, at the very least, end up as fodder to get another ‘bloody victim’ scene in. However, one of the more impressive points of the film is that it actually doesn’t make good on that set up at any point. On the other hand, I wasn’t entirely sure if that was due to artistic decision or budgetary restraints at having to pay more actors.
The music budget may well have been suffering too, I noticed, at this point. Early on in the proceedings, Rafael May’s score sounds a little like he’s trying to be John Carpenter on a really cheap, old style Casio home synthesiser from the early 1980s mixed in with some kind of hillbilly folk guitar for good measure. To be fair, though, his style does settle down as the movie continues and becomes something more like a good supporting score and sticks out less... in a positive way rather than bad.
Once our good protagonist’s boat is capsized by a rare (for the area) crocodile... as you kinda knew it would be... and their makeshift tour guide is eaten by said antagonist, the film becomes a survival story starting with Adam and Grace halfway up a tree and Lee trying to balance on top of the capsized boat. Once Lee is safely trapped in said tree with them, we get the usual arguments about whether the best course to freedom is finding their way through interlocking trees or making a play for the boat. We get more shenanigans until Adam makes a play for the boat with exactly the kind of consequences you are expecting from that venture at this point in the movie. There is a scene of not so high tension as he asks the girls to slacken off the rope tied to the boat so he can get it the right way up... at which point I kinda lost it because they’d already established that the rope was (quite visibly) caught on something under the surface of the water and so slackening it off won’t help one iota... but whatever, we all kinda know what’s going to happen here anyway.
Later on, as night falls, the screen goes black apart from the characters lit up with an occasional lightning flash. It’s, predictably, at this moment, that the wiley croc decides to eat one of the characters it’s killed earlier on in the film... when there’s no light so you don’t have to a) actually show it and b) worry about how good any practical effects you might choose to use here would look to the audience. I’m not sure if I’m just being cynical at this point or if the film-makers are just being shrewd, to be honest.
Now, I’m possibly being a little unfair to this film in some respects. The directors do invoke genuine suspense and tension in some scenes, usually from the characters visibly dipping limbs into the water or with the sound of little splashes which indicates that the crocodile is about somewhere near. Alas, once you recognise these tricks and they are repeated a few times, the tension drains out of the film somewhat but, still, there are a few scenes there that show a good understanding of this kind of genre fare at least.
Now, it has to be said... and I alluded this earlier... that the script, especially in terms of the dialogue, is not good. I couldn’t help thinking that if the writers had injected just a little more humour or over the top, tongue in cheek awareness into the characters at the nature of the story they were taking part in, much like Stephen Sommers did when he rebooted The Mummy franchise for Universal, then this movie would have had a lot more going for it. Heck, even putting something really stupid like flying crocodiles in here might well had done the trick in terms of giving this a sillier level of interest but... as the film complete lacks a sense of irony, it does tend to fall flat a lot of the time. There is a spark of a bright idea when the the younger sister tries to use the severed arm of an earlier victim to tempt/ward off the crocodile while she tries to get it into the sights of her newly acquired revolver but... alas... the film never really runs with this and instead, we have an obvious end game and an extra bleak ending which, in all honesty, doesn’t really save it.
However, I’m really glad to have seen Black Water because it’s interesting to dissect how some of these films don’t always work and, also, because it’s interesting to see what frightens other people enough to recommend this and try and figure out different audience responses to certain situations. And, yay... at last I’ve now seen a crocodile movie. So that’s another box ticked. If you’re into films like The Shallows or 47 Metres Down then this might be something you might like to try out.