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Review – Black Water: Abyss – “Fast and brutal”

Out in UK cinemas — yes, CINEMAS — on the 10th of July, Black Water: Abyss is written by John Ridley (Wentworth Prison) and Sarah Smith (Neighbours), directed by Andrew Traucki (Black Water and The Reef) and stars Jessica McNamee (The Meg), Luke Mitchell (Home and Away), Amali Golden (Home and Away), Benjamin Hoetjes (Home and Away: All or Nothing) and Anthony J. Sharpe (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries).

It’s summer in Northern Australia and jock-bro Eric (Mitchell) and his suspicious-he’s-having-an-affair girlfriend Jennifer (McNamee) set off with fellow couple the pregnant Yolanda (Golden) and the asthmatic Viktor (Hoetjes) on an adventure. Eric’s all-mouth mate Cash (Sharpe) has discovered a cave entrance and wants caving pro Eric to help him check it out and see if they can claim it and open it up to tourists.

Speaking of tourists, two have just gone missing. And the cave is right next to a big river full of crocodiles. Anyway, so the gang head into the cave and shortly after a huge storm hits. The way in is blocked by rocks and the cavern they are stuck begins to fill with rainwater. Things go from bad to fucking fucked when they discover their flooded cavern also contains a massive man-eating crocodile.

The setup is quick and the pre-title sequence croc attack is slick. Subsequent tussles with Chris (we named the crocodile) are also really well done and definitely the film’s highlights and director Traucki’s strength. Fast and brutal, these sequences capture the victim’s panic with fast cuts, frothing water, thrashing tails, flashes of teeth, and occasional longer shots that show Chris’ full body and size and strength. These death rolls and snaps from beneath are chilling, believable, and look great with what looks like practical effects preferred to CG for the majority.

We have obviously all seen Neil Marshall’s The Descent by now, so if you are not going to better its anxiety attack-inducing claustrophobia you can at least copy it, but the two-thirds caving sections of Black Water: Abyss have no crammed-in distress – even a “looks pretty tight” tunnel could be strolled down swinging your arms – and the underwater bits somehow lack tension. This is partly due to a not particularly thrilling score failing to get the heart pumping, cliched characters you don’t really care about and the doldrum you have already sunk into between Chris’ appearances.

Each member of the team have a trait each, but no likeability and their dialogue is often laughably basic. There are long dull lulls between attacks and the escape attempts are lackluster with those not partaking sitting about in the cavern waiting and fumbling for Viktor’s inhaler. There’s a brief, cool final face-off, but aside from the croc-y bits, Black Water: Abyss is a soggy slog.

Black Water: Abyss is released in the UK on the 10th of July.

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