Dead Calm (1989)

Sex :
Violence :
Director Phillip Noyce Reviewer :
Writers Terry Hayes
Starring Nicole Kidman, Sam Neill, Billy Zane
Genre Psycho
Tagline In the middle of nowhere there is nowhere to hide
15 second cap In the middle of the ocean a couple come upon a nightmare worse than the one they are living, sort of like alien except with a pissed off drag queen rather than a monster


"John,can you hear me?" - Rae Ingram

A couple getting over the death of their son in a car accident are on the high seas trying to sail away from the situation back home. Unfortunately they are becalmed with nothing in sight, except more sea. The husband, John Ingram, is a naval officer, while the wife, Rae, is taking pills to no doubt calm her down and put her to sleep. They note on the horizon a black schooner that looks to be in a rough way and some dude rowing across to them. John takes the stranger onboard, having clearly never seen a horror movie before, and then goes to investigate exactly what the hell went down on the schooner, which we learn is called Orpheus. John doesn't trust the stranger Hughie, who claims he is the sole survivor of an outbreak of food poisoning aboard his former boat.

While John is boarding the Orpheus, and discovering the secrets Hughie wasn't about to divulge, Hughie takes command of the Ingram's yacht and heads for the horizon with Rae seemingly at his maniac mercy. John needs to work out how to stop the Orpheus from sinking, and catch up to his own boat which is disappearing over the horizon. Rae needs to keep Hughie calm to avoid his maniacal anger. With John unable to come to the rescue Rae has to climb out of her funk and get the best of Hughie before he carves her up. A movie that was meant to be engrossing I guess ensues.

Basically with Dead Calm you are getting a sort of psycho killer flick set on the high seas with exactly three characters, and that's exactly where the problems with the movie begin, even with Sam Neill delivering a very solid stint in front of the camera. Billy Zane, an otherwise excellent Actor, is completely miscast and can't conjure up anything like the psychotic killer the movie needs. Likewise Nicole Kidman is simply woeful in another performance that makes you wonder how she get's these roles; it's clearly not through any abilities in front of the camera. Sorry not implying things here folks, the Aussie film industry is hampered by a fair degree of incestrial devouring of its own young and this is a prime example. On the bright side of the anchor at least the cinematography is pleasant enough to look at, was quite taken by the shots at dusk and dawn, if this had of been a nature documentary on dolphins or something it might have had more interesting.

So Billy Zane (Hughie) simply can't do psychotic killer, let's get that fillet on the BBQ upfront. Half the problem here is the pancake application of makeup, Zane rather than looking demented appears more as a slightly irritated drag queen throughout. Whoever was doing the makeup for this one should never ever work in the movies again, maybe they could get a job making up Grace Bros models or something. Zane tries his best, miscast as he is, but at no stage did I feel threatened by the character or discover the tension levels rising. Without a plausible antagonist, this sort of movie simply isn't going to work for anyone beyond the apologists and fanbois. If they had of thrown Hughie into Priscilla Queen of the Desert it would have been more believable, Zane jumped on the wrong float here.

A drag queen going drama isn't exactly an engrossing psycho antagonist, sorry Billy being honest here mate

Our Nicola (Rae Ingram) here demonstrates her acting ability hasn't improved from the vastly irritating Judy circa BMX Bandits (1983). Amateur hour at your local drama society came to mind, which actually when you come to think about it would have put Zane in his element as a drama queen. Anywise Kidman didn't sell me and I was frankly amazed Director Phillip Noyce decided any of the actress' scenes were a wrap. Talk about excruciating and non impactful, even the sex scene comes across as tagged on with Kidman unable to sell the emotional edge Rae must have been experiencing. Throughout the movie Kidman looked like a stunned mullet and I was really hoping Hughie would finish off her character sooner rather than later.

About the only one earning their pay cheque was Sam Neill (John Ingram) who gets to play the aloof naval officer ill equipped to deal with his Wife's breakdown. Interestingly John, who we all have pegged as the action hero, is pretty much marooned on the sinking Orpheus for the majority of the middle and last blocks of the movie, leaving things to the insipid Kidman to bore the audience. Neill is trying his best here but script writer Terry Hayes has no fucking idea of the genre he is writing in and singularly fails to bring anything of substance to the character.

Out of interest, and my community education requirement for the month, Orpheus rescued his wife Eurydice from the underworld in classic Greek mythology; no scribbler Hayes once again drops the ball on developing the parallels in any meaningful fashion. Don't get me started on some of the dialogue, is Hayes currently serving cheeseburgers at a well known Seppo burger chain? No doubt he's still pumping out scripts however as mediocrity is the game for the mainstream in Oz, quick check, okay Hayes did do the above average From Hell. What went wrong with Dead Calm Terry?

Behind the camera Director Phillip Noyce is doing a pretty good job with what he has been given. There's nothing sticking out that will trip the viewer up and you won't be left with the feeling you have a fish bone caught in your throat. The movie's pacing might seem slightly odd to a modern audience, there's a lot of lulls going down, but Noyce gets the job done here in a thriller fashion. Not his fault he has no surprises to spring at the audience, beyond the final "the killer isn't dead" scene that no one really needed. Noyce is unable to summon any chills or thrills and the tension simply doesn't happen, given the script and the actors tossed his way even Hitchcock couldn't have pulled this dogfish off.

Gorehounds aren't exactly going to be howling at the moon over this one, some blood, but not enough to have those of weaker disposition running home to Mom. Hey on the bright side they set fire to an actual boat and sunk it, that's pretty cool. So if major trauma to schooners is your thing, then plot a course to this movie for all the nautical fun you can have outside a bathtub.

Talking about T&A, holy heck kids this one was out of left field. Gals get both a buff looking Sam Neill and Billy Zane showing off the upper body gym work, and hell the boys have been toning up, enjoy yourself there ladies you deserve it. Guys get the Kidman boobs, jeez pancake night at the Cabana lounge came to mind, and the Kidman arse. So pretty much no T&A for the guys then, sorry to raise hopes there. I'm still digesting the sex scene, it comes out of left field, has some logic to it, but Kidman isn't selling the sacrifice. Not a tissue moment folks.

Okay up to review length so going to gut and fillet this particular guppy before too much more time passes. Did I enjoy the movie? Yeah sort of found it interesting in terms of the setup and plot development, but already had the tee and a couple of the leads for various reasons were not making it happen. Since the movie cost $5 at a JB sale I'm not complaining, for sure it was worth that investment. No recommendation folks, sorry but this one didn't reef the mainstay for mine, a poor effort at a thriller on the high seas. Pity as Aussies are normally all over this genre, oh wait that's independent Aussie fillum makers, the mainstream are more into mediocrity to be honest. If you want a psycho flick try Storm Warning instead, an altogether better movie.

Guess the movie is available on eBay or in various sales bins around the Country. If you really must taint your Aussie dark genre experience with this chum line then maybe check out the weekly $1 rentals down Blockbuster or something? Is that a sail on the horizon? - I'm pulling up anchor and getting out of here, yo-ho-ho.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  Well at least that one is off the dance card.