Piranha 3D is the latest big budget Hollywood remake/re-envisioning, from director Alexandre Aja. The plot, if you want to call it that, is simple. Its spring break and thousands of horny obnoxious college students, has descended upon Lake Victoria for a week of mass alcohol consumption and debauchery. Unfortunately for the unsuspecting partiers, just when the whole thing is being kicked off, the lake is also the epicenter of some major seismic activity, which causes a trench to be opened to an underwater lake. This lake sitting under Lake Victoria and isolated for millions of years, happens to be home to prehistoric Piranha that have tired of their cannibalistic ways, and are ready to feast on human flesh. Lunch is served.
At the time of writing it is Sunday of opening weekend. I watched this on Friday and wasn’t quite sure what to make of my reaction, especially after reading countless glowing reviews from all of my favorite horror sites, and mainstream critics alike. I did not hate this movie and yet I was not as taken as everyone else seems to be. I thought it was rather average all things considered. I suppose I should confess to not being a fan of Aja. He showed flashes of brilliance with Haute Tension, but ruined it for me with his M. Night Shyamalan-style twist, and since has not impressed me. I am also not a fan of this remake trend we’ve been stuck in for a decade, or most big budget Hollywood horror films in general. With that said, I’ll start with what I did enjoy and then move on to the things that kept me from rushing to my computer, and telling people to run and don’t walk or swim to the theater, which seems to be the most common way to end a review of this movie.
“Boobs and blood”, that’s what Aja promised and that’s what he delivered in spades. Forget about trying to count the kills, it’s far more enjoyable trying to count the boobies, which I lost track of about 2/3rds of the way through. Yes, I haven’t seen this much naked flesh in a horror movie since the 70’s, and what glorious naked flesh it is. Enough to attract Wild, Wild, Girls director Derrick Jones, played wonderfully over-the-top by Jerry O’Connel. He didn’t have to do much coaxing here, because the co-eds on Lake Victoria were more than happy to remove their tops, even when parasailing. He also brought along two of his best Wild, Wild, Girls, Danni and Crystal, played by Kelly Brook and Riley Steel, who sound and look like porn stars, and engage in some playful underwater girl-on-girl action, while holding their breath for 5 minutes or more. This movie is a teenage boy’s wet dream come true, and certainly enjoyable for older men whose inner teenage boy is still alive and kicking.
As for the blood, Greg Nicotero and KNB Effects, dish out enough gruesome gore to rival any horror film that has been released in the last two or three decades. There’s plenty of old-school practical effects on display, and the CGI is really not all that bad. When I saw the first trailer with the Piranha in it, I thought they looked pretty laughable, but they didn’t bother me while watching the movie and there were puppets used occasionally, although I could not differentiate between them. There is a body getting torn in half at the torso, and many bodies gnawed away to the bone, which all looks great. There were thousands of gallons of blood poured into Lake Havasu, so much so that it drifted to a separate part of the lake where actual vacationers were having fun in the water, which made it even more enjoyable for them. They just don’t make many movies like this anymore.
The performances in the film are all quite good, from Elisabeth Shue as the Sheriff, Ving Rhames as the deputy, and Christopher Lloyd as the pet shop owner (who also happens to double as an expert on prehistoric fish). Even the kids did a good job at not being annoying. My favorite performances were the cameos by Richard Dreyfuss as one Matt Hooper, singing a drunken ‘Show me the way to go home’, and Eli Roth as the wet T-shirt contest MC. I did not have a real problem with any of the acting or the characters they were portraying. I have however, run out of good things to say, which might be all anyone actually cares about.
One of my biggest gripes is the 3D. For an extra $3 I expect to be blown away. Sure it doesn’t sound like much, but it almost doubles the ticket price. There were a few instances of noticeable 3D effects, but mostly I was scratching my head and squinting trying to figure out what I was missing, and why I was wearing the glasses. Although having a $24 million budget, they could not afford to film in 3D, so they took the typical short-cut of doing it in post-production. I’ve heard director’s saying post-conversion 3D is just as effective as filming it in 3D, but I don’t buy that at all. I’ve seen enough of it now to be able to tell the difference between the two. I’m fairly certain there will be an enormous difference between this movie and Resident Evil: Afterlife, which was filmed with Cameron’s 3D cameras, and were operated by his crew. Post-production 3D is a gimmick used to jack up ticket prices. Cameron’s idea of 3D is actually worth the money. In this case I felt completely ripped off, and would have liked the option of seeing it in 2D, which basically the film is anyway.
Now I’m a horror fan, and I understand that Corman’s and Dante’s Piranha was a spoof on Jaws, but Pirahna 3D is just stupid. Most people say that’s the point, but the original film was made for less than $1 million, so it really had no choice but to be stupid. With a big budget like this, I guess I figured they had enough money to pay the screenwriter’s something: “I’m like an electric eel. I can fit through such tight spaces, it’s shocking”. That’s just one example. It’s not even dumb in a funny or interesting way, but as if it was the best thing a writer could come up with while writing the entire script on the car ride from his house to the studio. The first and third acts are dull and seemed pretty pointless to me. The second act is where all the action is, but getting there and then waiting for the credits to roll after seemed like such a drag. I guess my disappointment comes from thinking that if the script had been tighter and the characters written better, especially the supposed scientists who don’t have anything to offer, besides providing a snack for the fish – the movie could have been really interesting and solid, to go along with all the gore and T&A.
As with most remakes I watch, I see this as just another missed opportunity. Sure it’ll be a good movie to watch with the buddies while consuming alcohol, along with the college kids in the movie, but I think it could have been more than that. Yes it’s fun, but it will work just as well as a rental at home.
Robert A. Newberry
©2010 Cinematic Horror Archive, Dave J. Wilson – All work is the property of the credited author(s) and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.