Black Water: Abyss


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Black Water Abyss
"When Traucki has the confidence to be still and quiet himself, the effect is genuinely scary."

There are some horror films which one can easily imagine reworked in cartoon form for public information films. Black Water: Abyss has several important lessons to impart early on. if you're going cave diving for the first time, let people know where you are going and what time you will be back. Don't choose a system that nobody has ever explored before, especially not if it's in an area where people have recently gone missing. Check the weather reports first and - if you're in Australia - remember that there are lots of creatures out there that will happily kill you.

The long-awaited follow-up to 2007's Black Water, helmed by one of the original co-directors, this film sees another group of young people get into trouble in the outback, far from help. In a nod to the first film, one of them is pregnant, but she hasn't yet told her partner and there may be a reason for that. He's recovering from cancer treatment and the trip is supposed to help him get his confidence back, but this seems unlikely when he's constantly shunted aside by the big egos of his friend and their guide. Said friend's girlfriend tags along and, as the only other vaguely sympathetic person in the party, looks from the outset like a likely final girl - but the ending here doesn't go quite the way you might expect.

Copy picture

Everything else does. After the group becomes trapped in the caves with no way out except to go through the water, a large, fiercely territorial crocodile emerges, ready to start picking them off. It's then that the interpersonal dramas, heavily signposted from the start, begin to do their thing, and between these and various attempts to escape, the crocodile gets plenty of opportunities to snack. These are drawn out relatively well but otherwise they're very much by the book. They're also quite low on gore for a film of this type, partly because of the nature of the setting and partly, one assumes, because Andrew Traucki wants to focus on recapturing the suspense of the original. Sadly neither the script nor the performances are equal to this.

What Traucki does have is darkness. Some films lose out more than others due to the circumstances created by lockdown. This is one that really does need to be seen on a big screen - and, indeed, if you can catch it in a cinema that isn't allowed to fill many of its seats at once, that will be ideal. The large interior of the cave where our protagonists are trapped is only partially lit by their torch and mobile phones. The softly lapping water is properly black, unknowable, and for much of the running time that silently drifting predator could be anywhere. This is what gives the film its edge. Traucki doesn't make enough of it, cutting away too often so the we can watch the human characters exchanging unhappy looks, but when he has the confidence to be still and quiet himself, the effect is genuinely scary.

There are a lot more crocodilians around in the movies these days and the original Black Water can probably take some credit for that, but it does mean that this film has more to compete with, and at times it struggles to keep its head above water. This is an abyss that nobody is likely to gaze into for long.

Reviewed on: 06 Aug 2020
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Five friends exploring a remote cave system in Northern Australia find themselves threatened by a hungry crocodile.
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Director: Andrew Traucki

Writer: John Ridley, Sarah Smith

Starring: Jessica McNamee, Luke Mitchell, Amali Golden, Anthony J Sharpe, Rumi Kikuchi

Year: 2020

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Australia, US


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