Published Aug 10, 2020Since settling long ago into the comfortable swamp of B movie and made-for-TV content, killer crocodiles have enjoyed a steady relationship with horror fans who savour the specific snap that only their mighty jaws can make. The last 20 years alone have seen no less than five sequels to the original Lake Placid, for instance, among countless other offerings before and after. One of these croc films, the 2007 Australian chomper Black Water, directed by Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich, now has a belated sequel, denoted by the tiresomely nonsensical Abyss attached via colon to its original name. As a competent and efficient exercise in splicing the crocodile and cave thriller, it is perfectly fine (this is basically The Descent with crocs, right down to some much finer details), but beyond this fairly mundane twist to the genre, there is a distinct lack of new ideas. If you love crocodiles and haven't seen them do their thing enough in a cave, Black Water: Abyss may prove a worthwhile diversion; those seeking an elevation of the traditional proceedings can safely miss this one, however.
You will be on familiar footing almost immediately. After a quick night of partying, where everyone's prepackaged issues get hinted at (infidelity, pregnancy, illness), our croc's cave is invaded by the usual collection of hardy twenty-somethings, some romantically attached, some not. It isn't long before the croc injures one, splitting the group up into those that stay and those that search for a way out. There's an added element of tension in an ever-rising water level (communicated by a recurring shot of the same two rocks getting slightly more submerged, stoic through it all), but if you've seen one rocky ledge you've seen them all, and watching our heroes scramble from one to another to avoid the rising tide isn't terribly exciting, no matter how many ominous ripples are playing at the edge of their flashlights.
Traucki treats the croc with respect at least, keeping it mostly cool and aloof, with quick glimpses and strikes early on, a less-is-more approach that works well enough when there's something else to keep interest up during the beast's absence, but this isn't always the case here. Mostly we get lots of shots of flashlights illuminating greenish-yellow water (will there be a ripple this time?), and people splashing about frantically — the cast, led by Jessica McNamee and Luke Mitchell, are fine but unmemorable; there is really little for them to sink their teeth into, and they all participate in the time-tested tradition of shaking their heads silently when asked where their now-dead companion has gone, instead of just answering.
The love triangle that forms the B plot is teased out with at least one original detail involving a character's cancer treatment, but it's standard stuff otherwise, with lines like "It was a mistake!" getting blurted out meaningfully. And it never really boils over until the last twenty minutes — it would be interesting someday to see a genre movie like this that lays all its characters' dirty laundry out explicitly at the start, instead of using it to prop up the central story's climax in the usual way.
The opportunity to instill the croc with a unique malevolence or personality is wasted as well. It seems pretty big — but is that it? It's mostly just treated as a relentless force of nature, which is perhaps scary enough, but it feels like the filmmakers could have done more. We get the usual fast-approaching snout, the snapping jaws, but nothing striking or fresh — although one shot of it death-rolling a hapless victim (a real-life croc technique referenced out loud at one point — for the real connoisseurs) is pretty cool, and seems to have been done with mostly practical effects as well. Neat! Whatever budget was on hand didn't extend to the briefly glimpsed CGI cave entrance however — the definition of "abyss" is going to need a thorough reworking if it's meant to include this unimpressive thing.
It all moves along briskly enough however, delivering on if not exactly surpassing expectations, but one searches in vain for inspiration — beyond The Descent, that is. The similarities really are striking. We get the same undiscovered cave, rashly invaded by amateurs hungry for the glory of discovering a new system, the same undercurrents of infidelity linking certain characters to one another — even the same ankle injury at the end that precipitates an important choice one woman has to make about another. This last has to be an homage, and it's honestly owed. Meta-nods like this have a habit of inviting direct comparison however, and you don't always make it out as equals. Such is the case here. Black Water: Abyss is likely no worse than a great many croc movies out there, and its cave setting is at least a gesture towards distinction. (levelFILM)