Salvation Films // 2004 // 65 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 29th, 2008
Caged, Engaged, Enraged.
Some unnamed critic on the front of this DVD case claims this that this movie is "Big Brother meets Saw, only nastier." That is absolutely true, provided that by Big Brother he means "gas station security camera footage," by Saw he means "a room built with a saw and other tools," and by "nastier" he means "much less nasty."
Six people (three men, three women) wake up together inside a room. The room is locked, they can't get out. There are only a few things inside the room: a video camera, a television monitor, and a table with food and drinks. No one knows why they are inside the room, or who could have put them there. Suddenly, the most horrifying thing imaginable happens: incredibly cheesy elevator music starts playing. No one likes the elevator music, but they all must endure the sheer bland badness being piped into their ears. Simply chilling.
To make matters even worse, the music is soon replaced by a mysterious voice that offers a long list of rules. The rules more or less boil down to this: "Do what I tell you, or you will die." Only one person will be permitted to leave the room at the end of the game. That person will be informed who kidnapped them, and why. Welcome to The Aquarium.
Full disclosure: Apart from the first entry, I don't like the Saw films. I don't like the Hostel films. I'm not into the whole "torture porn" genre very much. While I can certainly appreciate a well-crafted violent thriller, I'm really just not into the whole "getting off on watching people suffer" thing. Thus, I obviously approached Aquarium with certain apprehensions. I mean, think about it. The anonymous quote on the front claims the movie is "nastier" than Saw, the front of the case features a guy who seems to be blowing his own brains out, the movie is unrated, and it's French. Given that first-glance evidence, who would ever guess that Aquarium would turn out to be so...um...tame?
Do you remember that last time you spent an hour in the waiting room at the doctor's office? You probably read a magazine and grew increasingly bored until finally someone told you that the wait was over. Watching this movie felt very much the same way. It's difficult to describe just how incredibly dull Aquarium is. Sixty percent of the running time consists of all the characters sitting around doing absolutely nothing. They don't say much, they don't do anything, they just sit. And the camera watches them. Ten percent of the film is spent on very bland dialogue, as the characters make a note of the fact that they are trapped and they would very much like not to be trapped. Another 10% of the film is spent listening to that boring villain spout off his boring rules. Ten percent of the film is spent watching the characters participate in the very dumb games the villain makes them play. Five percent of the movie is devoted to a bewilderingly incoherent ending, and another 5% is devoted to the opening and closing credits.
The "games" presented here are about as banal and unimaginative as they come. The villain decides to play "Simon Says" with the people in the room. "Simon says raise your right hand. Simon says raise your right leg. Simon says you can stop doing that now. Raise your hands. Oh, Mr. So-and-so, you raised your hand. Simon didn't say." Then the unnamed villain will turn on some sleeping gas, everyone will go to sleep, and when they wake up, dumb Mr. So-and-so will be gone. There's almost no innovation of any sort here, and even less suspense. I never knew that a game of Russian roulette could seem so uninteresting. Even those of you seeking some shocking low-budget violence will be disappointed, as this film is pretty much PG-13 material (soft R at the most). The whole thing ends on a note that the packaging calls "Orwellian" and that I call "nonsense." It's a pretentious and just plain silly piece of faux political awareness that I think is a crummy cheat. Orwell's fingernails were more interesting than anything this movie has to offer.
I'd talk about the performances, but I simply can't. There aren't really performances, just people in a room who shout or pout or stare on cue. Some have more screen time than others. Pointing out anyone in particular would only indicate which characters live the longest. The direction is lazy and dull, the cinematography is unimaginative, and the droning synth score by Camille Grillot and Romain Ressiguier is just terrible. The DVD transfer is quite crummy, with the brighter colors too frequently drowning out the other images. Sound is quite weak as well, and sometimes quite distorted (surprising for such a recent film).
If Aquarium = Boring, then the DVD Bonus Features = Crazy. First up, we having a so-called "Making-of Documentary." This is a four-minute montage of behind-the-scenes footage (with no dialogue of any sort) set to a piece of bad techno music. That's a documentary? The film's original trailer is boring, so are the stills galleries. There's some wild-looking trailers for some cheapo splatter movies from Redemption USA, and an extremely bizarre "book teaser" featuring pictures of (I kid you not) "Satanic sluts." A short film (made by Aquarium director Frederic Grousset) called "Emergency Stop" is a mediocre suspense short.
A warning for my legions of readers who happen to be small children: The next paragraph contains a good deal of naughty language
The strangest, least appealing, sickest thing included on the DVD is a Grousset short film that is aptly entitled "Shit." The film opens with a troubled man attempting to take a shit. He is quite constipated, and spends two minutes taking the most explosive and painful shit ever committed to film. He yells, screams, and the sound effects department use all of the shit noises at their disposal. When the man is done shitting, he realizes that there is no toilet paper left. He needs to wipe himself, and doesn't want to dirty his shoes (!) or his boxers. So, he decides to use his hand. He wipes himself, and generously shows the camera a nice big pile of his shit. Being quite disgusted at all the shit on his hand, the man starts flinging the shit everywhere, all over the bathroom walls. Suddenly, with no warning, the man's shit-covered hand flies into his own mouth. A giant word appears on the screen: "SHIT!" In every single sense of the word, "Shit" is the shittiest thing I have ever seen.
Naughty language now concluded
The film is mercifully short, only 65 minutes.
A remarkably dull and poorly-made film is given a bad DVD transfer with terrible extras. Stay out of this Aquarium. For that matter, stay out of all aquariums, unless you are the person in charge of feeding the fish.
Guilty, guilty, guilty. Pity the poor innocent souls who subject themselves to watching this.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Salvation Films
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 65 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Making-of Documentary"
* Stills Galleries
* "Emergency Stop"
* "Blood and Dishonor: Satanic Sluts" Book Teaser