Briefly during my screening of David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki's exciting horror thriller Black Water the colour disappeared from the screen and was replaced by faded blues and greens, scratches and film spots. It was at that moment that I realised "if any movie should have gotten the Grindhouse treatment, this is it!" It wasn't very long before everything returned to normal, but the idea stuck. As it stands, Black Water looks and sounds incredibly slick for such a low-budget affair.
Black Water is the second Aussie movie in two years to deal with people being terrorised by a hungry crocodile, however, the similarities are merely superficial. While I enjoyed Greg McLean's large scale take on the story with Rogue, this leaner and altogether meaner version tops it. The cast has been shrunken down to three principals (another is discarded early into the short 88-minute proceedings) and the scenery is kept to, quite literally, a few trees.
That the filmmakers have been so open about, essentially, ripping the idea for their movie off of Open Water from several years back is what makes the film so endearing in it's own way. It really is like a long lost relic from the hey day of Aussie genre filmmaking, the stuff that was documented in Mark Hartley's recently-released documentary Not Quite Hollywood (further discussions about that movie). Give the print some scratches, a wonky soundtrack and a missing reel and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn't think it was made in 1978 instead of 2008.
The scant story that Black Water has involves three people - Diana Glenn and Maeve Dermody playing sisters, Andy Rodoreda as Diana's boyfriend - who take a tin-boat tour of the mangroves in Northern Territory. No sooner have they found the perfect location for barramundi fishing their boat is rammed by a feisty croc and, in a terrifically constructed sequence, must seek refuge in the bendy branches of the mangroves, a mere metre above the water. That's it. They try several means of success, each with varying degrees of failure.
What really makes the film though are the performances, particularly those of Dermody and Glenn. Dermody in particular gives a really great performance as the younger, but resourceful, Lee (a performance that the AFI have deemed "supporting" despite spending the final act of the film more or less by herself). What I loved about the performance was that, yes, they give great frightened and terrified performances with sets of lungs that would impress any "Scream Queen", but there is also a wonderful sense of family between them. The way their voices fluctuate from being scared silly to sisterly bickering is fascinating to watch. There is a great deal of comedic value, too. Dermody, again, being the highlight with her sarcastic retorts. I actually liked these characters, which is so very often not the case. A nice opening credits sequence using photos on a digital camera was a good way of giving us a quick history of who these people are.
Nevertheless, this being a horror flick, the movie lives and dies by it's scares and in this department it succeeds swimmingly. The killer crocodile doesn't make a full on appearance until well into the movie, but when it does it works wonders. The scariest thing in the whole movie is the calmness with which the reptile emerges on the surface of the water from time to time. And there's one moment towards the end that had the entire cinema jumping out of their seats, no doubt replicating what just occured on scene. I'll let you see to the movie for yourself to revel in it.
Sure, there are minor quibbles to be had. If Greg McLean's Rogue did teach us anything, it is that crocodiles can swim incredibly fast underwater without making a ripple on the surface, something this film quickly disregards. There are some truly odd moments within the dialogue where characters say the same dialogue mere minutes after they spoke it first and the fate of two characters is given far too much slack. Why then? Why now?
That Black Water has so far gone without a mainstream release anywhere in Australia, apart from the Norther Territory where it posted very solid box office marks, is really a shame. It is a taut, effective horror thriller that should go on to be discovered by audiences for years to come, whether it be on DVD or late-night television screenings. It's one of the best Australian films of the year! B+