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Three little monkeys sitting in a tree...
on 23 January 2011
Black Water is directed and written by Andrew Traucki & David Nerlich. It stars Diana Glenn, Maeve Dermondy and Andy Rodoreda. Inspired by the true story of a crocodile attack in Australia's Northern Territory, Black Water is another in the growing line of movies determined to stop holiday makers venturing to Australia! Not really of course, but one can be forgiven for thinking that this is one dangerous place given the number of serial killers, amphibian monsters and, erm, crazed Hogs that over the years from Oz have titillated the gore hounds up there on the silver screen.
The set up is very simple, two girls (sisters) and one boy (partner of the eldest sister) decide to take a boat trip whilst holidaying in Northern Australia. It's not long before their boat is attacked by an unseen force and the three of them are thrust into a terrifying fight for survival in the mangrove swamps. Stuck up a tree-with no land reachable-and a giant beastie stalking them in the murky water, Black Water is going more for scary predicament than full thrust horror narrative. And it works....mostly.
Sure enough if you have seen the likes of back to basics chillers like Open Water then this doesn't hold any fresh appeal, but this does have much to recommend it in spite of its minimalist structure. First off the atmosphere is taut and well crafted by the directors, further enhanced by them asking us the audience to fill in the blanks. For the most part it's what you don't see that unnerves you; as it dose our terrified protagonists. Little pockets of air bubbles and ripples of water are used to great effect here, usually accompanied by a potent and eerie sound score by Rafael May. While the absence of CGI is refreshing and lends a naturalistic bent to the semi-docu feel the makers are going for.
The film also boasts some gorgeous cinematography from John Biggins, more impressive given that the location shoot was actually a small suburb in Sydney and not the vast mangroves of the Northern Territories. It's not so much the capturing of the hazy mangrove setting, tho the work there infuses the atmospheric unease, it's the photographing of nature at work. A spider busy on its web, ants carrying off their dinner or flies buzzing around almost gracefully, these offer up a smart flip-side of the coin to the force of nature down below in the water. Beautifully captured and making a very telling point: Mother nature is beautiful, but she's also not to be messed with.
Shame, then, that the final third doesn't quite live up to the promise of what has gone before it. The characters have been nicely formed and every drop of tension has been wrung out as the trios safety options vanquish by the hour. Yet in spite of a non formulaic arc for one of the characters, the finale is heavily shrouded in conventionality; almost getting daft as we enter Ripley/Rambo mode. It's not a deal breaker as such, but certainly an irksome way to end what in the main is a short, sharp and decidedly tense Aussie thriller. 7/10