If you're planning to mount a "killer croc" flick, there are generally two ways you can go: Fast-paced and semi-amusing, or straight-faced and grim. Most of the films in this sub-genre (which, I must admit, I love) fall into the former category (although Lewis Teague's original Alligator does a fairly fine job of playing on both sides of the fence), but a new Aussie indie called Black Water opts to dabble in the latter -- and it makes for an admirably intense little flick. Hardly a classic of the genre, but there's something to be said for a chomp-em-up tale that exhibits some class, intensity, and restraint.
The story is pretty much as you'd expect, although we are informed early on that Black Water is "based on actual events." (In many ways, this movie makes for a perfect companion piece to Chris Kentis' Open Water, provided you're into this sort of stuff.) A group of four ill-fated souls decides to go fishing in the mangrove swamps of Northern Australia. It doesn't take long before a (rather large) crocodile decides to capsize the fishing boat and send its shrieking inhabitants scurrying for the nearest tree. And that's pretty much it: A small and rapidly-dwindling group of people who find themselves terrorized by one of Mother Nature's more intimidating carnivores.
Those who sit down with Black Water expecting some sort of high-carnage, ultra-kinetic gorefest may walk away disappointed, but I'm of the opinion that co-directors David Nerlick and Andrew Traucki earns point for their more ... sedate approach. The croc itself is a rather horrifying character (and, for the most part, an actual crocodile), and the directors borrow a page from Spielberg by showing only the slightest glimpses of the predator. (Well, until the big finale, anyway.) If much of the action in Black Water takes place atop a tree while our surviving characters mull through their options, that's fine because the flick only runs about 80 minutes and the directors ratchet up the tension whenever possible. The bleak-yet-beautiful natural settings add a lot to the equation, as do the surprisingly strong performances by leading ladies Maeve Dermody and Diana Glenn.
Seems we've hit a little "croc renaissance" over the past year or so. First came the stupid-but-entertaining Primeval and next up is the long-delayed Rogue, from Wolf Creek director Greg McLean. (I've not seen that one yet, but I'm told it's really good!) On the horizon is also a sequel to Lake Placid, and now comes Black Water. Personally, I think there's always room for more Ravenous Reptiles movies, and this latest one is a low-key and quietly effective little chiller. (Plus the ending had me squirming big-time, and that's always fun.)
[ Black Water had its European premiere at the 2007 UK FrightFest, and will open in the UK early next year. American distribution has yet to be determined. ]