Animal-attack movies are a special breed of horror cinema for multiple reasons. The most immediate, though, is evident in how a film chooses to bring those animals to life as threatening beasts. There was a time when filmmakers would just use real animals, safety concerns be damned, but common sense and compassion won out eventually putting a tight lid on what could and could not be done. Practical effects, judicious editing, and CG effects are the new normal, and while too many movies use these tools poorly others get the combination just right.
Black Water: Abyss is director Andrew Traucki‘s third go-round with animal-attack horror after Black Water (2007) and The Reef (2010), and he once again delivers the goods. (His original even landed at number one in our list of killer alligator/crocodile flicks!) This sequel is marred slightly by some misjudged CG, but Traucki’s cast and crew keep the tension and suspense up through to the end.
After a brief intro showing an unfortunate tourist couple falling into the titular abyss and meeting their doom, we’re introduced to five friends excited for a day trip into the wilds of Northern Australia. Eric (Luke Mitchell) and Jennifer (Jessica McNamee) are already on an emotional precipice as he’s cheating behind her back, while Viktor (Benjamin Hoetjes) and Yolanda (Amali Golden) have bigger struggles as he’s fighting cancer and she’s pregnant. Cash (Anthony J. Sharpe) is the unfortunate fifth wheel along for the ride. The five go spelunking into a cave hoping to “discover” a new tourist spot, but when a storm moves in and waters rise they find themselves trapped.
And, as you’re probably expecting, they’re not alone.
As with 2007’s original, the scaly threat at the heart of Black Water: Abyss is a hungry, hungry crocodile. Traucki and friends switch things up this time, though, as instead of a vast mangrove swamp the action here occurs within the claustrophobic confines of a menacing cave system. We’re treated to some tight spaces, both above and below the water, and darkness overwhelms more than once. Production design and sound design work hand in hand to create a believable nightmare of shadows and faint splashes that up both tension and terror. A small third-act detour will leave some viewers shaking their heads in disbelief, but the film finds its footing again quick enough.
As mentioned above, there’s a bit more CG on display here than Traucki’s employed previously, and it lessens the effect at times. While a film like Crawl (2019) can get away with some obvious CG due to it being more of a fun “ride” than a frighteningly intense one, this more focused and tense experience feels let down by CG. Happily, the bulk of the film’s croc sequences rely on editing and practical effects that combine to get the job done.
The characters and performances are stronger than this kind of ensemble horror typically gets, too. None of them are obnoxious or wholly unlikable, traits that are fairly common elsewhere, and they’re each given enough for viewers to weigh and question their own concern as to who lives and dies. Cheaters, cowards, and liars are no less compelling when faced with imminent demise. Fans of the original film will see some shared beats, but outcomes deviate leaving audiences unlikely to predict who lives and who dies. Well, outside of the fool who says “Little bit of water’s not gonna hurt ya.” We all know that person’s going first.
The film does succumb to genre standards when it comes to using music stingers for scares, but Michael Lira‘s score is otherwise solid. It also knows when to go quiet as the film allows the suspense and tension of several sequences to unfold in near silence. Traucki and cinematographer Damien Beebe take fantastic advantage of the cave’s limited light sources including a beat with one character slowly going under the water a few times to look around. It’s suitably creepy.
Black Water: Abyss should satisfy fans of the first film and of the sub-genre as a whole. It delivers suspenseful set-pieces and thrills, and while the plausibility lessens as the film continues it’s never less than an engaging ride.
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