By MARK TURNER
Thirdty-five years ago a movie appeared that began a genre of its own. Loosely based on the horror genre that used any animal from killer shrews to giant ants, the film featured Mother Nature gone wild and becoming the most terrifying of all creatures. That film was JAWS and the movies that paid tribute to in whether directly or not is long.
GRIZZLY, TENTACLES and the original PIRANHA all used the setup of a town making money due to the holiday influx of people only to be confronted with a menace putting them all in danger.
Fans of those films, in particular the gory horror films of the eighties, have been making movies that they remember from their childhoods. And now we have one of the better homage to those films with the new version of PIRANHA. Director Alexander Aja states in the extras on this DVD that he loved those movies and saw a chance to offer a tribute to them. He does an exceptional job here. But be warned, this movie is not for kids at all. The extreme combination of nudity and gore make it one for adults only.
The story focuses on spring break in the community of Lake Victoria. Every year thousands of teens commandeer the beaches there to celebrate, which of course for them involves taking off clothes and consuming extreme amounts of alcohol. The woman in charge of keeping order is Sheriff Julie Foster (Elizabeth Shue). Sheriff Foster’s job is usually pretty calm but spring break offers all sorts of new trouble.
Foster’s son is Jake (Steven R. McQueen), about to graduate high school and always tied down babysitting his siblings during spring break which keeps him out of trouble as well. But this year Jake grabs an opportunity when home video producer Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell) hires him as a guide to the lake. Jones is shooting a film, one of the many Girls Gone Wild knockoffs. Yes, Jake gets a chance at seeing naked women and alcohol just like the rest of the kids.
Along for the ride is the object of Jake’s affection, Kelly (Jessica Szohr), now a college student and home for break. These two have an obvious affection for one another that for one reason or another never saw the light of day. Her acceptance of a trip on the Derrick’s boat doesn’t make Jake happy but what can he say now that he works for him?
At the opening of the film we witness a minor underwater earthquake that opens up a subterranean lake that releases the titled menace, a prehistoric piranha that is more dangerous than those around today. Its first victim (in what is perhaps the best cameo since Bill Murray in ZOMBIELAND) is Richard Dreyfuss in a minor tribute to his role as Matt Hooper in JAWS. That alone makes this one worth watching.
When a scientific group comes in to check out the seismic activity that happened underwater, they’re the first to officially discover the piranha. Now the Sheriff has no choice but to close the beaches. Of course we know how well that will go over. In one of the most extremely gory scenes of carnage ever filmed the spring breakers ignore the demand to get out of the water and summarily become chow for the rampaging fish. Body parts and blood are everywhere so fans of that will be pleased. Non-fans may find fascinating the way they make it all seem so real.
While the initial attack is going on, Jake and his new friends find themselves in danger as well. Having rescued his siblings (who snuck out and got stuck on an island after ignoring his warning to stay home), their boat crashes and is sinking slowly. Setting aside the fact he snuck out as well for the job, he contacts his mother to come to their aid.
A simple enough story, right? But it all works and works well. The characters are simple ones that could have been cardboard cutouts but each is given enough meat on their bones to make them real. And the acting by everyone involved, from the aforementioned actors to Ving Rhames as Shue’s deputy and Christopher Lloyd as a semi-mad scientist who studies fish, isn’t lame and makes each one believable.
I saw this film when it was released in 3D and even in 2D it works. My initial reaction was that it was a bit hokey but on second viewing the film actually has some scary moments. The pacing, direction, photography, all are top notch here, especially some of the underwater photography and special effects shots.
All in all the film is a great evening’s entertainment for horror and non-horror fans alike. But as I stated earlier, the film has some realistic gore moments and tons of nudity. For the record let me state that exposed breasts in 3D look the same in 2D. While the film makers state (in the extras) that they were paying tribute to the horror movies of the 80s that had both tons of gore and nudity, none had them to the extreme offered here. But if you can get past those two items, you’ll find a movie that offers scares, humor and a great production that makes it worth the price of rental if not purchase.
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