A terrifying tale of survival in the mangrove swamps of Northern Australia
Ever since Wolf Creek was released in 2005, the Australian outback has gained a sinister element to it which is incomparable to most horror movies set in urban areas – and Black Water has undeniably followed in its footsteps on this front. Just imagine a tranquil river surrounded by wilderness, nature thriving without the destruction of human intervention…just remember that this isn’t a place that people should necessarily be messing with! The plot here is a simple one and at its heart, this is a story of human survival. And we obviously can’t forget the flesh-eating crocodile! An added bonus here is that it was partly based on a true story, although director and co-writer Andrew Traucki said that it’s more accurately described as an amalgamation of several true stories. Either way, this is still a terrifying thought.
With just three main characters featured throughout the entire film (again, much like Wolf Creek), it is fairly easy to grow an attachment to them. Two sisters (one of them just discovering she’s pregnant – just to pull at our heart strings!) and a husband (the lucky, though unwitting father) take a vacation to go on a river tour, only to end up in a most desperate and horrifying situation. Their boat ends up getting overturned by an angry crocodile and their guide promptly disappears from sight, leaving the three of them alone, straddling a tree for safety. The crocodile constantly lingers nearby, deliberately taunting them and forcing them to stay in place. Whilst in this predicament, various escape attempts are carried out, however none end too successfully. The evil crocodile inevitably winds up taking a chunk out of all three of them in the end, and not all of them make it out alive. Eek.
Despite this though, Black Water can hardly be described as a gory movie, as it was very restrained in that respect. Perhaps this is due to the modest budget, but the fact that footage was used of a real crocodile definitely meant that it had a realistic and adequately scary atmosphere. I did genuinely jump a few times at the sudden movements of the crocodile and there was one particular bit where the camera ends up right inside its mouth! Apparently, the director set up the camera on a pole to get a shot and the crocodile just swung around and grabbed the camera. It’s amazing that they were brave enough to get it back really!
Black Water is yet another example of a horror film which manages to do quite a lot with relatively little. In an interview, Andrew Traucki said that he was actually inspired to make the film after watching Open Water, which he was really impressed with. He admired the fact that it was a good ‘stripped back horror/thriller’. The budget for Black Water was obviously not big, and whilst I was rather disappointed that we hardly ever got a proper look at the crocodile itself, it is an impressive feat to scare an audience with nothing but mere suggestion. It is the tension and anticipation with Black Water that got me the most – that knowledge that something is about to happen and having to sit there and wait for it. This really was a nail-biter!
Black Water was actually co-written and co-directed along with David Nerlich which helped to share the immense workload and offered multiple opinions to be put forth into the project. I think that collaborations are always a good idea in the film industry, simply because, as they say, two sets of eyes are better than one! David Nerlich has very limited directing experience and so worked more on the special effects side of things, allowing for a well-functioning partnership. Whilst this is obviously an Australian film through and through, it has been said that, funnily enough, the release of a scary movie like Black Water does not deter tourists but actually encourages them. How bizarre.
A lot of comparisons have been made between Black Water and the similar film (actually made in 2007 also) called Rogue, which also featured a human-munching crocodile. Whilst Rogue was a much slicker and more ‘Hollywood’ affair, a lot of critics have panned that one, preferring the modesty of Black Water and the basic scary techniques it employed. The fact that it used unknown Australian actors didn’t have a detrimental effect on Black Water as all three of them gave great performances. Ultimately, we can all relate to being stuck in a helpless situation and this is really what made Black Water the gripping film that it is – there is absolutely a universal appeal, whether you’re Australian, American, British, whatever, when it comes down to it all humans are alike. Andrew Traucki himself said that he thinks ‘the fear of being eaten or attacked by a large predator is ingrained in our genes’.
To finish off, Black Water is a quick, easy and enjoyable watch. If you like your ‘killer’ animals movies (Jaws, anyone?), then Black Water is definitely worth checking out. It is an expert example of how to make a decent horror film with relatively little cash up your sleeve. It can be done, so there is hope for all of those independent horror filmmakers out there yet. I also thought the taglines for Black Water were effective at promoting the film too, ‘what would you do?’ and ‘what you can’t see can hurt you’.
Black Water (2007)