– Summary –
Director : Alexandre Aja
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Elizabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Steve R McQueen, Jerry O’Connell, Ving Rhames, Jessica Szohr, Dina Meyer, Christopher Lloyd, Kelly Brook
Approx Running Time : 110 Minutes
Synopsis: After an underwater quake opens a chasm beneath an Arizona lake, releasing thousands of prehistoric, man-eating piranha, the local constabulary has to contain the situation from becoming deadly when it occurs during the height of spring break – hundreds of young people come to the lake to party, although, this time, it’s gonna get messy.
What we think : Diabolically scripted, acted and edited, yet filmed with the bloodthirsty glee of modern horror, Piranha gets the thumbs down for being, frankly, dumber than a box of hammers. With several tips of the hat to Jaws, as well as numerous other underwater-sea-creature features, and with the sense of glib carnage accorded modern blood-horror flicks these days, Piranha meets the requisite body part count about ten minutes in and keeps going from there. Horror fans will enjoy (if not entirely appreciate) the “fun”, but the rest of you have been warned: this film isn’t for you.
You know you’ve reached pop-icon status when you reprise a character from a much loved classic film, in a new film which is as far removed quality-wise from the original one as you can get. Piranha, the latest in the bottom-of-the-0cean killer flicks to come out of Hollywood’s bottom rung, opens with Richard Dreyfuss in a boat, being swept up into a whirlpool after an earth tremor opens a chasm beneath the lake he’s fishing on. The chasm unleashed a swarm of prehistoric piranha, which then eat him in a swirl of blood, guts and carnage – his name in this film, for the record, is “Matt”, which could be a tip of the hat to his role of Matt Hooper in Spielberg’s seminal creature-feature Jaws. Immediately, the b-grade status of this film is assured. Piranha isn’t the most intellectual film ever made – hell, I’d be surprised if the two blokes responsible for the script even made it past high school, but for the genre film it is, it packs a punch – albeit a fairly anemic one. Plus, with a cast as good as this, you’d expect a little more… and you’d be disappointed.
As mentioned, an underwater tremor unleashes a bunch of the titular fishies into a tourist lake, a lake that has just been invaded by spring break teenagers all looking to party – you know the kind, the big tits, hot bodied beer swilling hooligans that most holiday towns have to endure every season or so. The local police, led by Sherriff Forrester (Elizabeth Shue, looking completely out of her depth as an action star) only discover the arrival of the piranha after finding Matt’s body, and subsequent investigation of the quake by a team of seismologists (including a blink-and-miss-it cameo of sorts by Dina Meyer…) leads the law to determine that the water is now unsafe to swim in. Problem is, as with most drunken revelry groups gone awry, nobody is willing to listen, until it’s far, far too late. Indeed, the carnage of the piranha attacking a group of swimming college students, tearing limb from limb and making Jaws look like an attack by a trio of minnows, is horrific – to say the least. Piranha are amongst the most feared predators in the world, due mainly to their reputation of being able to strip an animal to the bone in a matter of minutes, and director Alexandre Aja preys on that fear in a less than subtle manner. Indeed, the requisite Jaws-POV shots, in which the camera dwells quite luridly on the multitude of feet, legs and boobs swimming in the water, before the carnage is unleashed, lends itself well enough to this film original 3D release, but falls a little short in dramatic impact in normal 2D, which is the way I viewed this film. A side story, involving Forrester’s children (including teenage son Jake (The Vampire Diaries‘ Steve R McQueen), who’s managed to score a ride on a boat venturing to make a porno out on the lake) has the hallmarks of classic cliche storytelling, with titilation and anticipation rapidly giving way to vapid thrills and empty, half-baked action sequences.
Let’s get it straight right here – Piranha is a terrible film in almost every aspect. The script never gets out of first gear, the characters are all shallow and uninteresting (or nasty, as is the case of Jerry O’Connell’s porno-director type) and the direction is uninspired – in fact, it’d go as fas as to say the Alexandre Aja has plagiarized his direction of this film from Spielberg so much you’d almost say Spielberg himself directed this film by proxy. The special effects, which probably look good in eye-blistering 3D, look simply dreadful by modern standards here. The piranha themselves are well designed, but the digital composition of them into the water sequences looks fake even by mid-80’s Doctor Who standards. There’s boobs, ass, and even a little bit of penis thrown into this film, a lurid blood-and-sex mixture that horror fans seem to lap up, but to me it feels a little like exploitation for the sake of it, rather than a genuine storytelling hook. Hell, some of the cast are even porn actresses (Riley Steele, Gianna Michaels and Ashlynn Brooke) and that shows you just how credible this film actually is. With insipid, tension free direction – including plenty of music stings alongside piranha swimming past the screen – the film remains generally free of genuine thrills. The gore quotient is palpably overdone – especially the scene involving the cock-wrenching demise of O’Connell – and there’s a moment where a young woman’s face is torn off when her hair is caught in a boat propeller which is pointless to the extreme.
Gore for the sake of gore, especially in such a character-less environment as this film establishes, is pretty much a yawn-fest these days. Gore-porn director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever & the Hostel movies), who makes a cameo in this film anyway, is partially responsible for the modern enjoyment of grotesque, humorless bloodbath films which see humans mutilated as horrifically as possible as quickly as possible – fans call it “harmless fun” in the same way that EMS crews call fatal accidents “statistic fillers”. To be honest, I tried hard to enjoy this film for the simple scare-fest it was made out to be. But I couldn’t see past the bad effects and shoddy film-making style, which became less about parody and more about simply ripping off other directors, and ultimately, the film was ruined because of it. If there were any laughs, then it was at the film rather than with it – a few moments of penis-munching aside, which were truly awful – and this doesn’t bode well for a film so slickly produced. Heck, if Chuck Russell passed on this, you know the story ain’t much chop.
Another of the major problems I have with this film, and it’s less about the actual film and more about the post-production 3D-isation of it, is the obvious 3D-shots that ruin what little storytelling style Aja had to begin with. Boobs and asses are poked directly at camera, things float into view in obsequious ways that you just know are designed to heighten the 3D effect – now, that’s a fair argument if you’re watching the film in 3D, perhaps. But in bog-standard 2D, the effect of things sitting front of camera focus works against the film; it takes me out of the story and instead of watching the film for the artistic merit, I’m instead watching a series of badly designed 3D “moments” that are either terribly CGI’d or simply stupid to begin with. I mention O’Connell’s cock again because that’s the most obvious, and by far the most stupid. You’ll know it when you see it. I’m all for the 3D process if it works with the film (myself, I can’t watch 3D because it gives me a headache… and I don’t have 3D here at the fernbyfilms.com office to watch it on anyway) but haven’t we all got past the obvious 3D stuff now? Things being in 3D for the sake of giving us a 3D experience, rather than using it to heighten the storyline (as was the case with Avatar, for example) just nullify the effect 3D could have on your film. Anyway, what do I know?
Piranha is a stupid, awfully made, cheap excuse for a bit of boob and blood. It’s barely scary, raising my pulse only once (and even then, it involved some hotties taking their tops off) and treats its cast (which include “performances” by Ving Rhames and Christopher Lloyd that are so bad they’re horrifying to watch) with disdain and contempt – and thus, the film treats me with contempt, and for that, I can’t overlook how stupid it all is. Folks who say this is good clean fun, or harmless piffling entertainment should be expecting a lot better from their Hollywood studios, to be honest. Piranha is passable as a cheap alternative to watching whatever shite Jennifer Anniston is in this month, but as far as quality filmmaking goes, this ranks alongside Alien Vs Predator: Requiem as a debacle from almost the very first frame.