Killer Mermaids


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Killer Mermaids
"The whole, torn between routine slasher film and otherworldly creepfest, struggles to find a clear voice."

What has Disney done to mermaids? Even in Hans Christian Andersen's time, they had a darker symbolic weight, but today Western horror fans are reacting to Killer Mermaids as if it has come up with a playful twist. Not so in Eastern Europe, where it was made and where it's set. There mermaids have remained sinister, closely related to the Russian rusalka, the spirit of a murdered girl who lurks in lonely waters waiting to drown men who pass by. In this film they are also connected with the Greek sirens, legendary creatures who lured sailors to their deaths with their beautiful song, feasting on the bodies as ships smashed against rocky islands.

Perhaps it's because of that cultural difference that this film has experienced so much difficulty. Previously known as Nymph and Mamula, it enjoyed brief success on the horror festival circuit before disappearing into obscurity. Having finally resurfaced with a DVD release, it has to win audience attention all over again; but although it's not brilliant, it has a lot going in its favour, and it certainly offers a change from the usual zombie and psychopath fare. Yes, there's also a serial killer here, who slings his hook much like the villain of I Know What You Did Last Summer, but he has a very different motive.

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After a bloody prologue, the real action begins somewhere more familiar, with two young American women (one of whom is played by a Ukrainian, the other of whom has lived in Germany and Italy for long enough to have to hide her accent) enjoying a sunny holiday in Montenegro. They're meeting up with an old friend, Alex, who is getting cold feet about his upcoming marriage to glamorous but shy Yasmin. Joined by a stranger, Boban, they decide to sail out to a mysterious island to explore the ruins of an old fort which all the locals shun.

If this sounds like a bad idea, consider that they have also received a specific and very forceful warning from a rugged old sailor with tales of Nazi experiments and Very Bad Things. In this role, the ever reliable Franco Nero channels his best Captain Ahab. His gravitas and portentous speech are at odds with everything else in the film, but that's what makes this vignette so charming. Of course, he's barely hinting at his own mysterious past, and our ongoing awareness of his presence somewhere on the borders of the narrative adds weight to what follows.

This is much needed, because once our young heroes find themselves on the island - and discover something of its secrets - there's a lot of very formulaic running about. The dialogue throughout the film is truly awful (to a degree not excused by English being a second language) and the minor players don't have much to contribute on the acting front - we need to be explicitly told how they feel about each other - so this is where the film sags, even the gore being overly familiar. It's a shame because it's all quite attractively shot, with good cinematography and a lot more imagination than is common in such fare. Kristina Klebe actually makes quite a solid heroine and Dragan Micanovic is not bad as Boban, revealing hidden depths in a character we're initially tempted to dismiss as the wacky one.

So we come to the mermaid - there's really only one we get to meet up close - played with suitable allure by Zorana Kostic Obradovic, at least when she's using her glamour. Underneath there's a creature that looks more like it might have relatives in Innsmouth. The special effects work here is very impressive for the film's tiny budget and good work has been put into thinking about her movements, so she looks like a natural being and not a silly Medieval chimera. It's far from flawless - sometimes we see the joins - but it works well enough, whilst the siren song, rendered like whalesong and skillfully woven into a tapestry of background sound work, adds a suitable element of creepiness to proceedings.

The whole, torn between routine slasher film and otherworldly creepfest, struggles to find a clear voice, and more might have been done with the central romance. We are left wanting more, especially in terms of mermaid action, but there's still a certain charm to this film, and Nero is magnificent.

Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2015
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Killer Mermaids packshot
Young tourists who visit an abandoned fort once used by the Nazis encounter a seductive and deadly mythical creature.

Director: Milan Todorovic

Starring: Kristina Klebe, Franco Nero, Natalie Burn, Dragan Micanovic, Miodrag Krstovic

Year: 2014

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Serbia


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