Frankenfish (2004)

Frankenfish (2004)

Welcome to the bottom of the food chain.

A brutal attack in the Louisiana swamps leaves local police mystified so they call in outside help. A coroner and a biologist travel to the swamp where they find that a group of genetically engineered Chinese snakeheads are munching their way downstream towards a houseboat community. Meanwhile the big game hunter responsible for breeding them is in hot pursuit of his prey.

 

Based on a real life incident in 2002 where a bunch of snakehead fish were found to be breeding in a pond in Maryland, Sy-Fy decided to churn out two snakehead-themed horror films for their regular Saturday night creature feature slot. I’m not sure whether there was enough material to stretch over one film, let alone two almost identical films but that’s Sy-Fy for you. Between this and Snakehead Terror, I think all bases have been covered.

Frankenfish isn’t a complete bore and is one of the better monster-on-the-films I’ve seen in recent years. Think Tremors but only replace the desert with the swamp, houses for houseboats and the Graboids with the snakehead fish. Only this sorely lacks the wit of Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward, replacing them with the usual array of token characters and cutting out any of the off-beat humour. A huge chunk of the film takes place aboard three houseboats in a remote lagoon where the characters stranded aboard the boats are unable to get to proper dry land because of the fish in the water. So you can get a gist of the sort of set pieces you’re going to be confronted with – people making attempts to flee the boats, sometimes falling into the water and being killed off and other times being rescued in the nick of time. Even though the set pieces reek of familiarity, they are still directed with a competent flair to make them seem fresher than they have any right to be.

Frankenfish is a film which is highly unpredictable too and puts it cast through the ringer. Though the film is populated by a largely-unsympathetic bunch of characters, there are a few likeable characters in there but the film shows no mercy to whether the audience wants to see them live or die. If you think you know who is going to get it next, then you’re mistaken. Sadly it’s this unpredictability that, at times, gives the film somewhat of a bumpy pace as the shock of some character departures sometimes causes the film to grind to a halt. The cinematography looks great too, with the shots of the swamp really hammering home the fact that this is in the middle of nowhere and adding to this notion that these characters are facing an uncertain future. Generally speaking, Frankenfish certainly comes off a professional effort, not some cheap second-rate straight-to-video flick – when stuff like Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid gets released in the cinema, you’re grateful that these so called second-rate flicks are more polished at a fraction of the cost.

The snakeheads themselves are pretty deadly – they’re nasty, aggressive fish in real life and so make the perfect foil for such a film like this. CGI is mixed in well with animatronics to create the illusion that these creatures do actually exist in the same physical universe as the characters – a trait which many of its ilk have often failed to convey. Not only content with using some model fish, there’s a nice old school vibe to the gore as well with plenty of blood and limbs thrown around. The finale in particular is a gruesome explosion of fish guts as the fish problem is dealt with in devastating fashion.

There is a reasonable cast of “you’ll know the face, not the name” actors including Muse Watson (the fisherman from I Know What You Did Last Summer), Reggie Lee (probably more famous for his role in TV’s Prison Break) and Thomas Arana (as Russell Crowe’s second-in-command in Gladiator) on hand to portray the usual array of businessman assholes, backwoods rednecks, dumb fishermen and the like.

 

As far as films about man-eating genetically engineered monsters go, Frankenfish is no better than all of the rest, nor is it any worse. It sits about middle ground. It’s not overly satisfying yet once it’s finished, you get the feeling that it could have been a lot worse. Is that how low my expectations have become for Sy-Fy Originals? It seems so.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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