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Case Number 13017

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Black Water

Sony // 2007 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // February 19th, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Paul Pritchard has hunted thousands of crocodiles in the pursuit of the perfect pair of crocodile shoes. However to this day he's still not caught a croc that actually wears a pair.

The Charge

Take Your Last Breath.

Opening Statement

What with Black Water and Wolf Creek before it, the Australian Tourist Board are really going to struggle selling their country as a safe holiday destination.

Facts of the Case

When their boat is capsized during a trip through the mangrove swamp in Northern Australia, Grace, Adam, and Lee find themselves the victims of a crocodile attack. While Adam and Grace find relative safety in a tree, Lee finds herself stranded on top of the upturned boat.

With the man-eating croc still on the prowl and little to no knowledge of the surrounding area, the group must struggle to not only survive, but also escape. Where's Mick Dundee when you really need him?

The Evidence

Joining the ranks of the creature feature while claiming to be based on a true story (read: based on stories of people being attacked by crocs, not one particular event), Black Water, if you'll allow me to get the obvious jokes out of the way first, just isn't snappy enough and is lacking any real bite. Swimming in a similar pool to Open Water the film really has nothing new to say, and what it does say it just repeats, over and over and over and…

Maintaining a downbeat feel throughout, Black Water never once utilizes its main attraction (the crocodile) to really let rip and scare the bejesus out of it's audience, and while I find the filmmakers insistence to tone down the gore and ramp up the tension admirable, I can't help but think the film would have benefited from a few more fast-paced scenes. Consisting mostly of our three lead characters stuck in a tree, each with their own idea on the best course of survival or escape, repetition sets in around the 45-minute mark. Although the film picks up when characters actually attempt some means of escape, the film soon reverts to type and we again find ourselves back in the tree.

While I wouldn't expect writer/directors Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich to resort to the goofiness of, say, Alligator (though that film at least proves that kid + diving board + alligator = funny), the film's complete unwillingness to entertain, results in a flat experience.

Sony's release of Black Water presents an excellent transfer, the movie, shot on HD cameras, offers a detailed picture highlighting the stunning scenery. Color levels remain solid throughout; the switch from the bright, vibrancy of the film's opening to the dankness of the swamp revealing no problems. The audio is also impressive with nice use of surround sound to recreate the sounds of the swamp.

Extras are the usual short making-of, deleted scenes, and commentary. The making-of featurette, even at 27 minutes, is really nothing new. It feels a little like something the filmmakers felt they had to put on the disc, rather than something they wanted to do.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Despite my frustrations with the film's pacing and structure, it would be wrong to think I found nothing positive in Black Water; on the contrary, there are a number of elements that come close to saving the film.

Writer/directors Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich show a knack for cranking up the tension and drawing the audience in whenever a character goes into the water. Instead of purely relying on sightings of the crocodile to generate the scares, Traucki and Nerlich cleverly combine the remoteness of the film's location with the uncertainty of whether the creature is still lurking in the waters below to keep the tension simmering. Though such moments are sadly fleeting, they had me gripped and, like the characters, had me asking what I would do in such a situation.

Filmed only 25 minutes away from downtown Sydney, the filmmakers do a convincing job of recreating the mangrove swamp. A clever use of shots and a minimal, though impressive, use of CGI help create an ominous environment.

The acting throughout is of a higher quality than you'd expect from a creature feature such as this; the cast ensure the characters remain convincing and natural; there are no acts of over-the-top heroism and nobody steps up to lead the group to safety. Instead we have three characters that you actually want to survive, pretty rare in this kind of movie.

Closing Statement

Sadly Black Water, even at 89 minutes, begins to drag around the halfway point. A lack of action results in the film stretching its premise too thin. Raising the tension is one thing, but you need an engaging story. Unfortunately Black Water ends up being nothing more than a series of nail-biting moments littered infrequently amongst long, arduous scenes where nothing happens. Despite the cast's best efforts, and frequent glimpses of brilliance from the directors, the repetitiveness of the film's structure means there is no way I can heartily recommend this as a purchase for anyone.

The Verdict

With a plot stretched thinner than the seat of my underpants, Black Water is found guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 92
Extras: 60
Acting: 80
Story: 60
Judgment: 65

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Suspense
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary with writer/directors Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich
• "The Making of Black Water"
• Deleted Scenes


• IMDb
• Official Site

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