The Good: Three-dimensional effects are all right.
The Bad: Terrible story, Awful acting, Lack of character development, All the worst horror conceits, Make-up effects are unimpressive.
The Basics: A terribly predictable, special-effects driven summer horror movie, Piranha 3D is not worth watching.
Right off the bat, it is worth noting that I am not a fan of gore flicks or horror. Despite actually being impressed by last year's A Nightmare On Elm Street, I loathed the reboot of Friday The Thirteenth and I tend to steer away from the genre in general. So when I was offered the opportunity to sit in on a test screening of Piranha 3D last year, I was not exactly excited. First, there was the fact that this was yet another horror remake. Second, the film did not come out until late August, so the studio screening was intended to get feedback on what worked and what didn't. As a result, there is the small chance that some changes might be made to the film before it is released from the version I screened. That said, they cannot change nearly enough to make Piranha 3D a movie that is even remotely worth suffering through.
It is worth noting at the outset that I have not seen the original horror movie Piranha and so I cannot speak to how much this is a remake or a reimagining of the original. That said, the movie seemed pretty self-contained and easy to follow.
Lake Victoria is the site of annual Spring Break debauchery and the current spring season seems to be no exception. However, as the moronic youth and other travelers descend upon the little town for fun in the lake, things take a turn for the worst when an earthquake lets loose a school of prehistoric piranha who have an appetite for human flesh. The piranha are abnormally large and the local crazy scientist, Goodman, identifies the creature as having ancient origins. The Sheriff, Julie Forester, makes the reluctant decision to cut into tourist dollars and she had her deputy, Bishop, close the waterfront.
Unfortunately for the town, the adults are outnumbered by the idiots and the spring break visitors are consumed in a bloody mess which leaves some stranded on the water in the middle of piranha-infested waters. But while some continue to break the quarantine on the lake and are consumed, Forester must protect her family and stop the threat the piranha represent. With the aid of Dr. Radzinsky and Mr. Goodman, Forester tries to save as many lives while eliminating the piranha who have the community in a stranglehold while her son is out on a boat in piranha-infested waters with pornographers.
Piranha 3D is one of those movies guaranteed to make adults hate young people, if only one could get adults to sit through this tripe. Featuring all the gore one can handle (the waters run predictably red as bodies are eviscerated), Piranha 3D is unfortunately predictable and the stylized elements of the film take the place of any real sensibility for reality. The movie is not about characters as much as it is about the baring of young breasts, special effect fish and as a result, the flick is short and it feels short. After the initial underwater earthquake unseals the prehistoric piranha, there is a pretty fast learning curve about the danger it represents, then the idiot kids get slaughtered and Forester has to do what she can to try to stop the piranha from continuing to kill or migrating where they might harm another community.
The special effects are surprisingly mundane and Piranha 3D is more hampered by trying to create its own menacing reality than anything else. As the viewer watches swarms of giant piranha head toward the screen, they are meant to feel helpless and afraid. Unfortunately, in many of the scenes this turns into a realistic chaos which is not at all satisfying to watch. In other words, the special effects continue moving so fast that the fish seem unstoppable, but it is so blurry that it is hard to tell what is actually happening on the screen. The only thing that is worse than when the fish speed by is when director Alexandre Aja slows the visual effects down for maximum emphasis or effect. It never seems to happen when the viewer actually cares about the person about to be mauled or torn apart. Moreover, the make-up effects are pretty bad in several points.
The characters are largely superfluous in this type story. The viewer initially feels bad for Sheriff Forester and deputy Welleger, but soon enough, the film is populated by scantily clad chicks who are happy to get drunk, take off all their clothes and get killed, usually as they swoon over equally dumb jock types. And largely, the viewer doesn't care. Until the idea of the school migrating comes into play, there is an almost cathartic enjoyment to watching the lowest common denominator characters get wiped out in a bloody wave.
Sheriff Forester, then, becomes the pretty generic hero character and she is aided by equally generic sidekicks who fill more niche roles than actually seem like vital characters. There is a campy quality to most of the film and there are annoying subplots with romance among those who have been traumatized by the piranha that is not so much sensible as it is obvious. There is a formulaic quality to the script that the movie never overcomes. This never becomes a satisfying movie or even a guilty pleasure. It is homogeneously weak on the character and plot fronts, up to and including how the movie is resolved.
Finally, the acting is problematic in far too many places. Elisabeth Shue is stiff in many of her scenes, especially when interacting with virtual fish. That said, when required to, she yells, runs, jumps and swims like a pro. The real mystery of Piranha 3D is how so many fine actors, like Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd, and Richard Dreyfuss got sucked into this campy horror flick.
What is not a mystery is why this movie was made. It is an inexpensive horror film filling out the August doldrums at the end of Summer Blockbuster season. It will be a rightful flop and one may only hope it does not bank enough to even have Dimension contemplating a sequel.
Now on DVD, Piranha lacks the 3D effects and comes with feaurettes which make it in no way more worth watching.
For other horror films, please be sure to check out the reviews of:
Repo! The Genetic Opera
For other film reviews, check out my index page on the subject by clicking here!
© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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