Black Water: Abyss (2020)
"Don't get back into the water"
Five friends set off to explore a remote cave system in Northern Australia. When a flash flood hits and cuts off their only escape route, they become trapped. With the water rapidly rising, their problems worsen when they realise that they are stuck in the cave with a large crocodile.
Whilst the original Black Water quickly outstayed its limited premise, it still delivered a decent amount of suspense and shocks in its ninety-minutes and, considering the budget and short shooting schedule, was better than it had any right to be. The crocodile behaved naturally and the whole scenario was plausible, which added some nice realism. Since then, director Andrew Traucki had helmed the similarly themed shark flick The Reef, another watchable timewaster which had some nice moments and rode its realism as much as it could but again ran out of steam as it was the same routine repeated for the entire film.
A follow-up in name only with no connection to Black Water, Black Water: Abyss finds Traucki once again going back to the well of the ‘people trapped somewhere with killer animal nearby’ premise with diminishing returns. It’s a thin premise on paper and Traucki makes little attempt to flesh the material out anymore than he has to – the only real difference from his previous outing is that the characters are stuck underground rather than up a tree. The thin premise is stretched across a bloated ninety-eight minutes running time, though this somehow feels about twice as long due to the film’s lack of highlights. There are no key scenes or standout moments for you to put your finger on at a certain point in the film and you will have this uncanny perception that Black Water: Abyss has gone on for far longer than you thought it has.
It comes to something when the film’s most tense sequences don’t actually involve the crocodile but feature the characters swimming underwater in really dark, narrow tunnels. The lack of light and the murky water really feels claustrophobic and lends these sequences a realistic touch, even if it gets a little too dark at times. When one character gets their foot trapped in a rock and starts drowning as they desperately try to break free, the audience will be gasping for breath as much as the character is. Coupled with the added threats of asthma attacks for one character, suffocating once the air runs out or being crushed with further cave-ins takes away a lot of the threat of the crocodile itself.
As a result, the crocodile sequences don’t come anywhere near the level of tension created with the natural threats. I guess it is the over familiarity with this type of set-up now, where audiences clearly know that the calm water will be broken with a frenzied jump scare at any one moment. It may even be the fact there are basically one or two dull set pieces which are recycled over and over again to the point of nauseum.
Characters have to try and get from A to B and this involves them going into the water and opening themselves up to attack. There’s no sense of urgency and you won’t even realise the waters are rising unless one of the characters mentions it every so often. The predator seems happy just chilling out, waiting for the moment to strike and thus keeping itself off-screen for large swathes of running time. The crocodile is kept ‘natural’ which means it won’t act like one of those cheesy Sy Fy movies, jumping up and sprinting on dry land, but rather just lurk in the water and wait for its opportune moment with brief, sudden rushes of energy. Black Water’s crocodile was a real one but it was from footage that had been shot elsewhere and added into the film quite effectively. I’d say the same was true here, with the majority of the crocodile shots being done of real crocodiles and added into the film.
The characters are not memorable, but the script desperately tries to bring them to life with lots of baggage – one character is recovering from cancer treatment and I’m not quite sure who had the idea of having one of the female characters explore the cave whilst pregnant but it’s a ludicrous premise (and a cheap one to elicit some sympathy at that). The set-up hints at plenty of tension between the group and once they become trapped, this tension comes to the fore with a love triangle being the main worry. I mean, it’s not like they have anything else to worry about apart from being eaten by a giant crocodile or drowning in the caves. The acting across the board is perfunctory for what it is but the necessities of the film dictate that being able to look scared on a partially submerged set is a lot more important than bringing any sort of life to the cardboard cut-outs they’re given.
And if you think you’ll get through the whole film without an underwater ‘boo’ moment featuring the crocodile popping out from the side of the murky frame, you’ve got another thing coming.
Black Water did the crocodile thing better (dozens of films have done the crocodile thing better!) and The Descent did the trapped underground thing better. Black Water: Abyss is a poor recycling of ideas, offers nothing new and which was a bit of a pointless return to the crocodile genre for director Traucki. Black Water: Abyss also now has the dubious distinction of being one of the first films released in cinemas in the UK after the first Covid-19 lockdown had ended. I guess after a few months locked up at home, we were only too happy to see anything on the big screen.
Black Water: Abyss
Director(s): Andrew Traucki
Writer(s): John Ridley, Sarah Smith
Actor(s): Jessica McNamee, Luke Mitchell, Amali Golden, Benjamin Hoetjes, Anthony J. Sharpe
Duration: 98 mins