I'm a sucker for monster movies, especially ones involving oversized crocodilians. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of them are absolutely horrible, with thin backstories as to how they got to be so big and why they are in the wrong part of the world.
Putting the animals back in their natural setting seems to make a difference. Greg McLean's 'Rogue', about a gargantuan saltwater crocodile that devours a group of vacationers on a river cruise in Kakadu National Park (with a story inspired by an actual crocodile that terrorised boaters in the area during the late 70s), is my personal high-water mark for the sub-genre. Bear in my mind, I haven't seen David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki's 'Black Water' from 2007, so I may be missing out on some gold.
Andrew Traucki's solo-directed and unconnected sequel, 'Black Water: Abyss', kicks off with an Asian tourist couple in the Northern Territory quickly being munched by the chonky lizard of the piece. We then meet a group of friends preparing for a cave dive and there's the quick introduction to the players and their relationships: Eric (Luke Mitchell, a charismatic actor who deserves better than this), his girlfriend Jen (Jessica McNamee, 'The Meg'), who doubts his commitment to their relationship; and their friends Viktor (Benjamin Hoetjes) and Yolanda (Amali Golden), a love-up couple. There's plenty of foreshadowing and faux-offhanded introduction of information and elements that will - surprise! - become crucial later on.
The four and a guide lower themselves into the cave, but when a storm floods their escape route, they have no idea how to get out. As if things couldn't get worse, the hungry reptile of the opening scene arrives. There are death rolls, chompings, polarising conflicts over decisions, terrifying life-or-death struggles and catharsis, all doled out at intervals as precise as the steps to a familiar dance.
Traucki stokes some tension from this simple setup, thanks to lucid staging and plotting that (almost) keeps unbelievable protagonist behaviour to a minimum. 'Black Water: Abyss' delineates its characters with clean, quick brushstrokes, thereby eliciting a modicum of empathy for their life-or-death plight and their varied reactions to their circumstances. Aside from a few nice shots of the imposing Outback landscape, which comes across as a primal environment unfit for modern intruders, most of the film takes place in a dimly lit water-filled cave. The isolation in an unfamiliar habitat is just as important (if not moreso) than the imminent threat of being eaten alive. While the stomach-clenching setting and claustrophobic squeezes are mildly thrilling, 'Black Water: Abyss' doesn't seem to have the budget to present its unholy beast in all its enormous, monstrous glory, keeping such glimpses to a relative minimum.
When the action finally emerges from the cave, the sequence of events (involving a fallen tree) leading to the final battle with the crocodile was so ludicrously convenient that it made me laugh.
While I was surprised and pleased that character deaths were determined by one simple metric - how close someone was to the water - 'Black Water: Abyss' lacks momentum during the lengthy cave sequence, which makes up the largest portion of the film. The water-treading character drama is quite dull. When the action finally emerges from the cave, the sequence of events (involving a fallen tree) that leads to the final battle with the crocodile is so ludicrously convenient that it made me laugh.
'Black Water: Abyss' should have been a shrewd, scary situational suspense film along the lines of Alexandra Aja's minor classic 'Crawl' or Jaume Collet-Serra's underrated 'The Shallows', but a low budget, slack pacing and a lack of ideas sinks this one to the bottom of the swamp.