Tuesday, August 4, 2020

'Black Water: Abyss' (2020) Movie Review

When you think crocodiles and Australians in movies, odds are your mind turns immediately to a man named Dundee and his rather large knife. That, however, is not the only game in town. Case in point, director Andrew Traucki’s Black Water: Abyss, a cave-spelunking, croc-fighting tale of claustrophobia and survival that watches a bit like a synthesis of The Descent and Crawl.

Technically, Abyss is a sequel to Traucki’s 2007 film, Black Water. Though it’s truly a follow up in name and spirit only. Yes, there are Australian characters battling hungry crocodile in the remote wilderness, but that’s where the connective tissue ends. 

The story follows five friends—Eric (Luke Mitchell), Jennifer (Jessica McNamee), Yolanda (Amali Golden), Viktor (Benjamin Hoetjes), and Cash (Anthony J. Sharpe)—who make the poor decision to explore a series of newly discovered underground caves. What could possibly go wrong? The answer is everything. Everything that can go wrong does in fact go wrong, and in short order they’re locked in a life-or-death battle with a pissed off croc and trapped deep underground. Simple, straightforward, to the point.

Abyss functions best when it sticks to this. The script from John Ridley and Sarah Smith ticks off the boxes, making the situation increasingly dire—the cave floods, the passage collapses, then, of course, crocodiles—and Traucki uses the cramped environs and escalating danger to squeeze the characters in a tight blanket of creeping dread. It’s a tense, fun thriller that’s not afraid to shed a bit of blood from time to time.

When it tries to be something more than that, however, the seams show. The actors do a good enough job, but there’s not much to their paper-thin characters. There’s the handsome lead with nothing more on his mind than adventure (Eric), his voice-of-reason girlfriend (Jennifer), the gung-ho bro whose surface bravado masks inexperience and underlying cowardice (Cash), and the couple with SO MUCH TO LIVE FOR!!! (Yolanda and Viktor.) That’s what they are, nothing more.

They all have secrets and strife and lingering issues to deal with, which the script hints at and sets up but never develops. These underlying tensions lay forgotten by the wayside for most of the movie, and when Abyss does attempt to deal with these strains, it kills the pace, takes up time, and feels like an afterthought. The impulse to create human drama and texture is admirable, though flat execution and odd timing adds little except filler. At least when it bogs down in tepid, inter-squad discord, they can simply throw in a crocodile to fix the problem.

Not a new classic, nor even a top-tier creature feature, Black Water: Abyss offers a brisk, entertaining bit of B-movie man-versus-nature terror. It never tries to be much beyond that and does what it does effectively and efficiently, providing tension, scares, and gnashing crocodile teeth. It’ll get you where you need to go. [Grade: B-]

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