PIRANHA 3D. Starring Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Steven R McQueen and Christopher Lloyd. Directed by Alexandre Aja. 88 minutes. MA 15+ (Strong violence and nudity, blood and gore).
If ever there was real schlock horror, then this is it.
It can probably be best described as a ‘hoot’. It is one of those movies that can (not necessarily should) be watched at home by a young adult audience (not being required to act in any adult way), better with a group who will laugh out loud, jump and scream now and again, and ogle the sexy content (even an aquatic nude ballet, performed underwater – after all the director is French!), which brings to mind the title of one of the main songs from A Chorus Line.
This is a film of depth. Well, not that kind of cinematic depth, just literal depth.
Piranha 3D at its deepest: it opens with a seismic shift under Lake Victoria, Arizona, just at the time that Richard Dreyfuss, in his Jaws character, is out fishing – with a destructive result from special effects that the shark from Jaws would be jealous of. The tone is set: knowing laugh about Jaws and disaster movies, anticipation of plenty of beyond-Jaws devastation, peril and rescue (with a large body – and body parts – count). All fulfilled. That’s the depth at the bottom of the lake which some scientists explore with the same skin and bone-shredding results.
Just up from that is another depth level, that below the water surface – lots of repeats of limbs splashing, blood spurts and piranhas moving almost at the speed of light to do their thing. It is also at this level that the aforementioned aquatic ballet takes place, lasting more than might be expected but, also tailored for disbelieving laughs as Kelly Brook and her partner swim to the accompaniment of the well-known aria from Lakme! And, it is at this level that, one the one hand, a woman’s hair gets entangled with a boat’s motor (grizzly!) and, on the other, the teenage dorky hero rescues his sometimes petulant girlfriend (split-second heroics!).
Coming up to the surface, we have both the serious and the silly. Serious is the work of the local sheriff (Elizabth Shue, always welcome), her trying to keep her three children safe but obedience to their mother is not the order of the day and she finishes up having to rescue them all (peril and stunts) when she thought they were safe at home. She also has to assist the scientists in their quest for what happened under the lake. Oh, and Christopher Lloyd turns up as the local scientist, a specialist on prehistoric piranhas – who has almost the last word, which is swiftly taken from him in a jolt ending which shocks and makes us all laugh as the credits roll and, because of the box-office success in its opening weekend in the US, we realise there is going to be a bigger, if not better, sequel. (What did Joe Dante set off with his original Piranha back in 1978 and continued by, of all people, James Cameron , in the 80s sequel!)
Also on the surface are thousands of those college students, hounded by hormones and compulsive extraversion, which has them descend in hordes to holiday resorts for spring breaks and lose all inhibitions and most of their clothes, so that they can shout, drink, gyrate on the spot to loud music, and indulge in wet-shirting and leering. Also on the surface is a porn-film-maker, played with crass relish by Jerry O’Connell (the underwater ballet is his idea), apparently a send up of the web master of Girls Gone Wild (who wanted to sue for defamation). The moral satisfaction for the righteous audience is that so many of those who have been the titilators are the first on the piranha menu.
There's lots of grisly special effects, some realistic and some so gorily gross and unrealistic-looking that they have the audience gasping and laughing at the same time.
So, it’s the same Jaws scenario of holidays, menace, the authorities trying to handle the situation (which some commentators have noted has already been made classic in Ibsen’s 19th century play An Enemy of the People, but who on the crew of Piranha 3D might have known that!).
The running time is fairly short – which means that that group watching the DVD might click ‘play’ again for a re-hoot.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Released August 26 2010.