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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

[Review] ‘Black Water: Abyss’ Sinks with Toothless Killer Croc Horror

The 2007 killer croc movie Black Water drew inspiration from a true story in which a pregnant woman, her boyfriend, and her sister were terrorized by a crocodile in a Northern Australian mangrove swamp. Directed by David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki, the movie used shot footage of crocodiles and tense plotting to create a simple yet effective killer croc creature feature. For its follow-up, Traucki goes solo and merges the original’s concept with the claustrophobic, cave-dwelling nightmare of The Descent. If only the sequel lived up to that description.  

After a very promising opening sequence featuring a grisly attack in an undiscovered cave, Black Water: Abyss slows down to introduce the group of characters that will run afoul of some killer crocs. Adrenaline junkie Eric (Luke Mitchell) and his girlfriend Jennifer (Jessica McNamee) are spending time with their friends Yolanda (Amali Golden) and Viktor (Benjamin Hoetjes) in Northern Australia. Looking for their next adventure, they eagerly jump at the chance to tag along with local Cash (Anthony J. Sharpe) to check out a previously unexplored cave system. An unexpected tropical storm traps them below ground with rising floodwaters, and a bask of apex predators.

This sequel contains all the ingredients for a leaner, meaner survival thriller, namely a higher body count and a setting that allows for more exhilarating and visually exciting set pieces. While there are numerous tension-filled sequences, especially whenever characters are forced to enter the murky cave water, Abyss winds up a mostly disappointing affair.

Penned by John Ridley & Sarah Smith, the script focuses heavily on character dynamics. Viktor is currently in remission and recovering from cancer treatments, making his decision to join the expedition a puzzling one. Jennifer, not nearly as adventurous as her boyfriend, spends much of her time looking through his phone for signs of cheating. Through Yolanda, the film annoyingly retreads a plot point from the first film, but here it feels like a cheap ploy to engender audience sympathy. Because these characters are so thinly written, none of this amounts to much outside of contrived drama.

The stars of the film, the crocs, get sidelined. There are tons of shots of the terrain and the rushing water, and plenty of spelunking scenes among the characters, but the crocs don’t appear as often as you’d think for a killer croc movie. They mostly seem content to poke their head above water to watch the human idiots implode from their melodrama. A large part of this issue is that Traucki is employing the same tricks from the previous film. Compositing live footage of the predator worked well before because the trapped trio was often hiding in a tree for safety, making the croc a lurking menace. It doesn’t work so well here because the heightened situation of a flooding cave means these characters are much more mobile and interactive with their restrictive space. This sequel doesn’t always know how to blend the croc shots with the humans. When the animals do attack, the lower budget often shows its seams. It’s as though Traucki is retracing the same steps without taking this film’s environment into account. It results in a haphazardly strung together series of sequences tethered by one-note characters that can’t die fast enough.

The very idea of applying a vicious animal to The Descent formula teases a level of unrelenting dread and claustrophobic terror that this sequel never comes close to achieving. A few memorable moments, scares, and a promising opening scene show promise. Still, all of it is undermined by a severe lack of depth, overwrought drama, and suspense that can’t maintain any momentum. In other words, this killer croc flick is a mostly toothless affair.

Black Water: Abyss releases on VOD August 7, 2020.


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