Film Review – Black Water: Abyss (2020)

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When is a sequel not a sequel?  When the director tweaks the title and repeats the idea of the first film, but with a different cast.  And that’s exactly what Black Water‘s (2007) Andrew Traucki has done in Black Water: Abyss, which has also earned the unexpected distinction this week of being one of the first new films to be released in UK cinemas post-lockdown.  Northern Australian setting?  Tick.  Group of people pursued by a man eating monster?  Tick.  Lots of water for it to hide in?  Tick. Yes, we’ve been here before, not just in the previous film but in an awful lot of others as well.  Jaws, anybody?

This time round, it’s five cave explorers who can’t resist the temptation to pitch themselves down a sinkhole in the tropical jungle to explore an underground cave system.  They’re not the first to find it – the opening prologue gives us a taste of what’s to come when a pair of Japanese tourists literally stumble across it – but for all their safety harnesses, hard hats and backpacks, there’s two things they don’t plan for.  The weather and, of course, what awaits them in those caves.  A torrential tropical storm causes floods above and below ground – and wakes up a giant crocodile, who’s clearly feeling a bit peckish and knows that a five course lunch has arrived.

Last year’s Crawl explored similar territory, with alligators stalking the waters of a flooded Florida and to hugely entertaining effect.  Black Water:Abyss isn’t nearly as much fun: it takes itself far more seriously, ignoring plot inconsistencies that stick out like a sore thumb and adding an emotional dimension to the storyline with an eye towards upping our involvement with the characters.  But, like some of the half-hearted attacks from the croc, all it does is encourage laughter.  Of the wrong kind.  That, plus the distinct impression of a tight budget all round – caves that look very much like sets, encounters with the crocodile that are either unconvincing or take place off camera – means that this is a creature feature that’s short on thrills.  Despite, as we see in the credits, being a Thrills And Spills Production.

It has its moments.  Although the film spends a lot of time building up to the croc’s appearances, with suitably Jaws-like strings, there’s one that attack that comes from nowhere and will have you jumping out of your seat.  It could do with more of them, but instead chooses to stick with its small bag of tricks, as the group dwindles in the expected way.  Even an attempt at a final surprise in the closing moments  is more than a touch soggy.

As an addition to the “animal attack” sub-genre, Black Water:Abyss is no more than fair to middling.  There’s nothing especially original, frightening or memorable about it – except for the remarkable batteries powering the lights used by the cavers.  They never, ever flicker, splutter or let them down.  If they had, the water would have been truly black.  As it is, it’s just murky.

★★ 1/2

Thriller, horror | Cert: 15 | Altitude Film Entertainment | 10 July 2020 | Dir. Andrew Traucki | Jessica McNamee, Luke Mitchell, Amali Golden, Benjamin Hoetjes, Anthony J Sharpe.