Black Water (2008)

Director David Nerlich, Andrew Traucki
Writers David Nerlich, Andrew Traucki
Starring Diana Glenn, Maeve Dermody, Andy Rodoreda, Ben Oxenbould
Genre Creature Feature
Tagline What You Can't See Can Hurt You.

For no apparent reason we got three killer croc movies in pretty quick succession back around '07 and '08, I'm excluding anything The Asylum might have produced in that period as those people hardly count. The yanks gave us Primevil, which besides sharing a name with ITV's new Sci-Fi show, crashed and burned due to audience confusion as to what genre the movie was actually attempting to work in. From Down Under Greg McLean, still basking in the critical and commercial success of Wolf Creek, delivered the overly cut Rogue and learnt in the process you simply don't have anything to do with the Weinsteins if attempting to make a coherent horror movie. Also from Australia came the overlooked and immensely superior to it's brethren Black Water that I'm already calling an Aussie horror classic. There was one decent croc movie in 2008 and it wasn't the two big commercial releases. Let's take a hung bite out of an Indie movie that shows exactly what you can do in the dark genre even with a limited budget.

Talk us through it

Three people on Christmas holidays in the Northern Territory decide to check out a local fishing tour "Blackwater Barry". Adam and Grace are presumably married though it's never stated, while Grace's younger sister Lee is tagging along. Oh and to add to the drama Grace has just found out she is pregnant. Unfortunately they have missed the tour boat but Jim, apparently a mechanic with the fishing operation, offers to take them out himself in a rather small "tinnie", (that would be an aluminium dingy for foreigner readers, not to be confused with a can of beer).

The tour is apparently through Mangrove waterways which would be a worry for anyone raised in Australia, but Jim can helpfully inform us the "salties" (that would be salt water crocodiles for foreign readers) are pretty much non-existent in the area due to shooting and croc farming. Which is why Jim is naturally carrying a handgun. We can only assume the local barramundi population has been irradiated by uranium and has gone all mutated terror on us.

Gradually our impromptu tour winds it's way deeper into the mangroves as Jim searches out a decent fishing area. Naturally the boat is hit by something underwater and quickly overturns. Before you can scream "watch out for glowing barramundi" Adam and Grace are in the branches of a tree, Lee is on top of the capsized boat, and Jim is floating face down in the water below them. It doesn't take a great leap of intuition to work out our tour has been attacked by a hungry croc who is eyeing additional morsels for the larder.

How are our survivors going to get out of their situation, a tension filled psychological movie ensues.


"You two take care of each other." - Pat

Black Water starts with the information that both the croc and human populations are increasing in the Northern Territory, and the fact that the movie we are about to watch is based on a true story. Cool ominous start to the film and the audience are settling in for something half decent, assuming the whole "based on a true story" hasn't got anyone making statements including the words "Amityville" and "Bullshit". We meet our three leads, Adam, Grace, and Lee as they make their escape from the traditional family day after the turkey festivities. Seems all three are keen on going to check out a local crocodile farm, and this of course gives David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki the chance to lay some crocodile rock on us and setup some rules of engagement for the ill fated fishing expedition. The Directors skilfully weave in some live action stuff with a bunch of tourist footage. It really all slots together nicely, and you will not notice the joins through the rest of the movie. There's a whole feeling of realism going down during Black Water's running time that will add to the tension as things go to hell in a row boat.

Our croc loving tourists, does anyone really go up North just to check out the salties?, miss the boat for their fishing trip but some random mechanical dude offers to take them out. Once again the Directors deserve to be congratulated for the economy of story telling here. Since they aren't on an official fishing tour, and their stand-in guide looks like he may have just been hanging out, no one is going to miss them when they become overdue. Neither David Nerlich nor Andrew Traucki bother explaining the situation, you are either going to pick up on it by inference or miss the point entirely. This could explain some bad word of mouth aimed at Black Water, sorry kids you are actually going to have to listen to dialogue and pick up on nuances, the movie requires concentration and input from the audience. Don't go into this one if expecting everything to be handed to you on a platter, you are going to have to do your own fishing here. I take my hat off to a couple of Directors prepared to respect their audience' intelligence.

Having introduced our three leads, and providing enough background information to have you concerned about what may befall them, the Directors throw on a false scare that was more than clever in it's execution. We know a croc attack is coming, but David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki keep that under their hats as they toy with audience expectations. There's almost a Neil Marshall feeling to how they achieve that and I was certainly nodding in appreciation. About the only fault I could find in the lead-in to the action proper was that the tour guide was clearly not long for the world as we don't spend much time with him. I'm never a fan of the "disposable" character in horror and feel a lot of Directors miss out on adding some spice to the mixture by not having seemingly major characters disposed of early in a flick. See Hitchcock's Psycho to see how effective the approach can be.

The movie asks what you would do if stuck between a rock and a hard place due to an apex predator lurking somewhere in the water below you. Judging from some responses online the gene pool is in for a well needed clean up!

When the actual croc attack comes it's filmed in a frantic kinetic fashion that will have you wondering about exactly what you have just seen. Adam and Grace manage to climb into a mangrove tree, Lee after some "heart in your mouth" action gets on top of the overturned boat, and tour guide Jim is facedown in the water presumed deceased. Since both the Audience and the Characters know there's a croc about, the Directors don't bother with a whole lot of "what happened" dialogue etc, and we thank them for that. What follows is pretty much an hour of the Audience wondering just where the crocodile might be lurking as the lunch menu try and decide which course of action would be the most likely to get them out of their predicament. Naturally some plans are going to come undone in dire fashion while the resolution certainly come from an unexpected source, thankfully not left field or far fetched.

David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki pretty much nail the middle part of their movie by simply asking the audience what they would do if put in the same situation. Do you try for the overturned boat floating tantalising close? Do you see if you can get to shore via the trees? Or do you sit and try and wait things out? In a similar fashion to Open Water the Director's breakup what could be some monotonous scenes with tropical storms etc as they show time passing. As opposed to Open Water, anyone else scream at the screen during that movie "they are reef sharks and are harmless you morons"? - Black Water has the constant presence of the croc overshadowing character decisions and keeping tension right at the top of your priority list.

The Directors follow a Speilberg truisim by not showing their croc for the vast majority of the movie, hence when you do get to see the bugger it's always an impactful moment. For certain people who were waxing lyrical about how realistic the croc was that would be because Nerlich and Traucki cut in actual footage of the big reptiles to really amp up that realism. On at least a couple of occasions I was jumping in my seat as the main attraction made an unexpected appearance, and I did at one stage scream out "look behind you!". Been a while since I've seen a creature feature that really nailed the danger mother nature has thrown in the leads way during a movie. My thanks to the Directors for reminding me why we dial into horror movies.

Adding a slice of garnish to our realistic looking movie is the bold announcement that Black Water is based on a true story. Seems a couple of young blokes ended up a tree after a saltie capsized their boat and finished off one of their mates. Nerlich and Traucki pretty much follow the actual happenings though they up the tension with having a pregnant woman on the menu. Still a Jungian archetypical pressure point in my opinion, and handled with an exacting hand by the Directors. There are a couple of scenes where you will be concerned for Grace's future well being, and hold onto your beverage container when air croc goes down.

Quite sometime ago I wrote a review of William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist and opinioned that Blatty put it through for a major as his prose summoned the actual devil into that bedroom in Georgetown. Nerlich and Traucki match Blatty, there's a real sense of impending doom throughout Black Water, as the Directors grab you by the throat and don't let up. I haven't seen a movie able to hold this amount of tension since catching Brad Anderson's Session Nine.

Diana Glenn (Grace) gives a virtuoso performance as the woman who starts out trying to get things done but who is gradually ground down by the mounting horror she has to endure, Glenn is simply outstanding in her reaction to the Jaws 2 crunch. I was digging her performance and was left wondering if we haven't found our next Naomi Watts. Maeve Dermody (Lee) is equally on song and should have no problems cashing her cheque. Dermody handles a major change in her character toward the end of the movie with consummate ease and had me cheering her on. Andy Rodoreda (Adam) was well cast as the city office worker suddenly confronted by the bloody jaws of nature and captured his character's indecision well. And finally Ben Oxenbould (Jim) did okay but the role wasn't big enough to really comment on.

Notably the Directors of Black Water pull off one of the best character changes since the pivotal moment in Ridley Scott's Alien when Ellen Ripley has to assume command and responsability. Without giving too much away, characters will change their outlook and either become more or less decisive as the situation demands. It's a subtle piece of film making but adds to the overall psychological complexity of the movie.

T&A is reduced to a brief scene of Diana Glenn and Maeve Dermody in their bikinis during happier times. For the rest of the movie the croc is naked.

Rafael May turned in an at times experimental sounding score that is used sparsely by the Directors. It adds to the tension in places while at other times not matching the visuals. Some pop tracks are thrown in for good measure including one toward the end that had me bemused.

Summary Execution

I have been waiting for what seemed like years for David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki's debut feature Black Water. Early word on the street was the movie was far superior to Rogue and was destined to regenerate the creature feature as a staple of Australian dark cinema. I can honestly report the wait was worth it with Nerlich and Traucki delivering a film destined to be a classic of Australian horror cinema.

During the early part of the 1980s Horror was increasingly being taken out of the backwoods of America and situated in the suburbs. A recent trend by Australian film makers is to return to our backwoods aka "the outback" and throw suburbanites to the wolves so to speak. Must be doing wonders for our tourist Industry really. Black Water continues the trend but warns the dangers inherit in the outback aren't only going to bite Yank and Brit tourists on the arse, but will focus on anyone entering harm's way.

Black Water was the result of Director/Writer Andrew Traucki failing to get a couple of more expensive ideas up. He had caught Open Water and was intrigued by how cheap the movie was to make. Film Australia was also intrigued hence with some cross pollution from fellow Director/Writer David Nerlich we got the movie Black Water. So that will answer the question about comparisons to Open Water that had me wondering back when Black Water went unnoticed at the cinemas.

Full recommendation on Black Water the movie continues the tradition of showing that those beautiful Aussie landscapes and vistas are really only concealing dangers that are just laying in wait for the unwary. Full of tension and bite, Black Water is a welcome return to what once made the horror movie great. If you are planning on watching just one creature feature this year then run, don't walk, to your local DVD retailer and grab a copy of Black Water. Warning, you may need a change of undies during certain scenes in this movie.

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

Black Water is an instant classic of the dark genre Down Under.