Island Zero


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Island Zero
"Punching well above its weight, this is a film unashamed of its own smallness and willing to take risks in service of the story."

Island Zero is the title of the novel being written by the stranger (Matthew Wilkas), or so he tells the doctor (Laila Robins). She's curious about him because she, too, is fairly new to the place, serving as a locum until a long term doctor can be found. She's supposed to be going back to the mainland for Christmas, but the ferry hasn't come. This happens sometimes, the locals tell her. The thing is, it doesn't usually happen for days and days in a row, and it's usually possible to make radio contact with the mainland. The disappearance of local fishermen is rather strange, too.

The idea of an isolated island being threatened by creatures from the sea has been explored many times before, from Island Of Terror to Jaws to Grabbers. Like most entries in the genre, Island Zero is made on a low budget, but it doesn't try to manage this with schlocky effects and knowing humour. With the exception of a playful opening scene, it plays it remarkably straight, with the first half spent almost entirely on character development. We meet local marine biologist Sam (Adam Wade McLaughlin), his journalist girlfriend Lucy (Teri Reeves), who is on the brink of leaving him, and his teenage kid Allie (Elaine Landry, in a role originally written for a boy), who just happens to have got a new camera for Christmas - one that can see in infra red. We get to know the elderly people who make up most of the island's population, so that when the threat moves onto land, we understand just how vulnerable this small community is.

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The acting is impressively solid and the script, despite a few sly comments designed to play with genre expectations, is natural enough that the film succeeds in doing something rare for a story of this sort - enabling viewers to imagine themselves in the position of the islanders. Having built up the atmosphere in this way, director Josh Gerritsen and his writer wife Tess are smart enough not to ruin it by letting us see monsters that they don't have the effects budget to do justice to. Taking the Predator way out, combined with a bit of CGI infra red work, isn't entirely successful, but it's probably the best available option. If you're willing to bear with the film through this, it has a lot going in its favour.

Yes, much of the plot is formulaic, but the ensemble cast approach means it's less clear than usual who - if anyone - will survive. The science behind the plot is much more coherent than usual and adds a menacing touch of believability to the underlying premise. There are hints of HP Lovecraft's Innsmouth mythology, and whilst this is no rival for Xavier Gens' recent Cold Skin, it touches successfully on that sense of human smallness, especially as it moves toward a dark ending.

Punching well above its weight, this is a film unashamed of its own smallness and willing to take risks in service of the story. It's a fantastic calling card for the Gerritsens, and genre fans may find themselves enjoying it a great deal.

Reviewed on: 14 May 2018
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Island Zero packshot
A fishing community on a remote Maine island finds itself suddenly cut off from the rest of the world after the ferry stops coming. When people start to vanish, the terrified survivors realise that someone - or something - is hunting them.

Director: Josh Gerritsen

Writer: Tess Gerritsen

Starring: Laila Robins, Adam Wade McLaughlin, Teri Reeves, Matthew Wilkas

Year: 2017

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: US


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