In Andrew Trauki’s Black Water: Abyss, five friends set out to investigate an unexplored cave system in Australia, only to discover that the cave is inhabited by a crocodile with a hankering for fresh meat. It’s a bit like someone decided it would be a good idea to mash together Lake Placid and The Descent (two movies I adore, despite their flaws) – but unfortunately, Black Water: Abyss lacks both the campy charm of the former and the nuanced control of tension displayed in the latter.
I should admit from the outset of this review that I have not watched Black Water, the 2007 film to which Black Water: Abyss is loosely connected. Ultimately, I think I enjoyed this movie more because of my lack of familiarity with its predecessor. I had no expectations, which makes it hard to be disappointed.
While the plot is predictable and has all the flavour and originality of cardboard, it is coherent and well-paced. There are some well-timed jump scares, and in a few scenes the use of light, water, and reflection is nicely suited to the claustrophobic atmosphere and is used to enhance the chaos of the underwater attacks and the panic that the characters feel. Unfortunately, the effect of the clever lighting and camera work is undone by sloppy effects that render high-tension moments laughable. The result is an inconsistency in tone that makes it impossible to be fully immersed in the story.
Black Water: Abyss feels like the kind of film that would have been much better had it been willing to take more risks. Throughout, the script and characters have a paint-by-numbers quality; there is little effort made to be original or to look beyond the standard tropes of the genre. This doesn’t just lead to a boring viewing experience, but a frustrating one.
I would have liked to see this film commit more to developing the claustrophobia of the cave and exploring the characters’ responses to both the environmental and crocodilian threats. Enough character development was present that the setting could have taken on a greater emotional or thematic significance, but despite the depth that the title implies, Black Water: Abyss seems content to stay in the shallow end of the pool.
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