Black Water (2007)
By: Devon B. on April 29, 2008  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Director: Andrew Traucki, David Nerlich
Starring: Diana Glenn, Maeve Dermody, Andy Rodereda, Ben Oxenbould
Screenplay: Andrew Traucki, David Nerlich
Country: Australia
There has been a bumper crop of crocodile movies in the last year or so, but there was one I was looking forward to more than all the others. Black Water got my hopes up because the filmmakers promised a real Estuarine crocodile would be terrorising people in place of the usual CGI crapodile. Why is it that CG crocs always end up looking like runny turds?

Black Water's promotion also made me think it might be the first movie to really capture the stealthy danger these animals can represent. I enjoy fluff like Killer Crocodile as much as the next croc obsessed nutjob, but movies like that are about as believable as pro-wrestling argy bargy. The problem with making a realistic crocodile movie is that they are ambush hunters, so there must be a plausible reason for people to be hanging out for 90 or so minutes near the water where they know there might be a croc. Black Water cleverly uses a true story to solve the "Why would they do that?" dilemma (more on the true story can be found in Digital Retribution's interview with co-writer/director Andrew Traucki here).

The film begins with some text informing us that the number of salties in northern Australia is increasing, just like the number of people. There's no mention of camels, which probably outnumber both crocs and people combined in the north, but Black Water is set in Queensland and the camels are mostly in the Northern Territory, so I guess that's okay. Plus who, wants to hear about stupid camels anyway? Hopefully you 'cause I've just blathered on about them and you just read it.

Black Water's story revolves around three people on holiday who head off on a fishing tour, but miss the boat. Luckily a guy working there offers to take 'em out himself. He tells the vacationers that there are no crocs left in the area, but despite that one manages to capsize their boat, and our leads get stuck up a tree with their guide floating dead below them. Stranded, with no one knowing where they are, the three try to think of a way to get out of the tree without going in the possibly croc concealing water below them. The trio only put themselves at risk when they've logically concluded it's necessary, which makes it much easier to understand their actions than those of the idiots in Rogue who seemed to just be looking for excuses to go in for a quick dip.

Don't be fooled by the Region 1 DVD's cover that makes Black Water look like something that fell out of Fred Olen Ray's ass, this is a good, indie movie. While there are a few laboured moments early on, Black Water doesn't suffer the same lousy pre-water set up fate as Open Water, so you don't spend the first bit of the film saying, "Just get up the tree, already!" Comparisons to Open Water are unavoidable, particularly given things like a mangrove redo of Open Water's stormy night, but Black Water is the better made film, and looks far slicker. The three leads have to carry most of the movie with only a tree to support them, and all do well with their performances. The tension is generally well maintained, including a nice, Jaws 2 inspired moment, but a bit more bleak humour may have been in order to break things up. There are a few horror clichés that crop up, and some silly moments involving staying near the water, but overall Black Water is an engaging psychological horror movie. With a crocodile.

While the croc is real, computer work was clearly done to smooth out the edges of its interactions with the rest of the cast, though not always perfectly due to the film's low budget. The water's surface is disturbed much more than it would be by a stalking crocodile, but I think that's a fair enough device given the filmmakers used real crocs. The film unfortunately gets over revved in the finalé, becoming unbelievable, which undermines the realism created by using an actual crocodile. Ultimately, I'm willing to suspend disbelief to the extent required in Black Water because in a movie where a crocodile was portrayed completely realistically, you'd only see the thing for maybe 30 seconds in total as it grabbed people, and that'd be more boring than something that did fall out of Fred Olen Ray's ass.

The film's not perfect, but remains an impressive debut feature. Here's a chance to get behind a genre pic not just because it's local and independent, but because it's good. The makers of Black Water used ingenuity and talent to trump the much bigger budgeted Rogue and Primeval and have produced the best movie about three people stuck up a tree you're ever likely to see. And there's a crocodile.
Movie Score
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