Written by: Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Elisabeth Shue, Steven McQueen, Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd, and Richard Dreyfuss
Reviewed by: Brett G.
“The piranha hunt in packs. The first bite draws blood, blood draws the pack.”
An update of Joe Dante’s 1978 cult classic, Piranha, has been a long time coming. It was originally conceived years ago, passing through various writers’ and directors’ hands before finally falling into the lap of French horror auteur, Alexandre Aja. It was set to open last year before an arduous production and painstaking 3D conversion process pushed it back until now. Finally arriving in theaters and filled to the brim with “sea, sex, and blood,” Piranha 3D is a splatter fan’s wet dream in more ways than one.
An underwater earthquake beneath Lake Victoria, Arizona, opens up a huge chasm that essentially unveils another lake system. This opening also allows the lake’s pre-historic inhabitants, a pack of bloodthirsty, vicious piranha, swim to the surface. It also happens to be Spring Break, which has brought the typical teenage and young adult debauchery to town. The local sheriff’s (Shue) son (McQueen) dodges babysitting duties to help out with the latest production of “Wild Wild Girls,” which puts himself and his two younger siblings in the middle of the deadly lake.
When the film opens to Richard Dreyfuss in full “Hooper” regalia, singing a familiar tune, you immediately know that Piranha 3D was worth the wait. It’s a bloody thrill ride from beginning to end that pays loving tribute not only to the original film, but the creature feature genre itself. It revels in all its B-movie, schlock-filled conventions and redefines cinematic gratuitousness along the way. Make no mistake: this isn’t the quaint-by-comparison Piranha of your youth, nor can it even be considered a remake of that film. Instead, it takes the killer piranha concept and places it in some familiar teen comedy trappings, and the result is 90 minutes of pure entertainment. It delivers exactly what it promises: over-the-top antics, killer gore (courtesy of genre legends Nicotero and Berger), and plenty of skin.
Indeed, this one sets the bar high when it comes to pure exploitation. It’s the type of movie that Joe Bob Briggs’s Drive-In Movie Total was made for, and even he would probably lose track along the way. There’s gratuitous wet t-shirt contests (hosted by Eli Roth), stripping, girl-on-girl action, motor-boating (and I’m not talking about the vehicle), and topless parasailing. One lovely underwater sequence captures the exquisite beauty of the nude female form in all its glory as a bunch of horndogs capture it all on film. Oh, did I mention that at least three porn stars are featured in the cast, and that the film manages to break the outdoor record for most breasts ever projected in 3D?
Aja is similarly unreserved with the gore. Plenty of disgustingly chewed-up corpses pop up, compelling our main characters to unravel the mystery in the lake. It all builds to one show-stopping sequence that’s among the best scenes of gruesome carnage ever captured. Bodies are eviscerated in a horrific set-piece that literally turns the lake red. Despite the somewhat absurd and over-the-top nature of the sequence, the effects are downright nasty and even surprising at times. The cleverly-designed scenes are ingeniously realized and paced--just when you think you’ve seen all, it manages to top itself by continually hacking up bodies. The film doesn’t just rely on gore, however, as the climax manages to be genuinely suspenseful and riveting.
It helps that somehow, amidst all the slaughter, the film manages to craft some likeable and memorable characters. It’s an obviously eclectic cast which sees most of the actors playing caricatures-- Jerry O’Connell is a sleazy porn producer, Ving Rhames is a badass, shotgun-toting deputy, and Christopher Lloyd might as well be playing Doc Brown in the role of a local scientist. McQueen and his teenage crush are our default main characters, and they’re serviceable enough to make the last act a harrowing ordeal. Aja is deft enough to realize that his human characters are just as important as the titular beasts, and he devotes just enough time to them to keep it interesting.
Of course, Aja also knows exactly why audiences will expect when they come to see a film called Piranha 3D. This awareness is obvious all the way through, as Aja wears his love for the genre on his sleeve and throws everything (including the kitchen sink) at audiences. If you venture to see this one theatrically (and you should), blood, severed limbs, fish guts, and even vomit will be spewed at you in the third dimension. It was a post-production 3D conversion, but it’s still adequate enough and not all rushed. My local theater’s screen was a bit dim at times, but Aja’s trademark, slick cinematography is on display here. If anything, Aja has proven himself as a masterful visual director whose inventive camerawork highlights one of the most entertaining films of the year so far. My beloved killer shark sub-genre has been pretty much dead in the water for decades; how ironic, then, that an update of the original Jaws homage has taken the killer fish movie to such great heights. Let’s just hope that a possible sequel manages fly a bit higher than this one’s predecessor. When this one swims to shore shelves, reel it in immediately. Buy it!
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