Black Water: Abyss is your classic ‘people making stupid decisions and getting themselves into severe trouble’ type of setup. Taking place in Northern Australia, Director Andrew Traucki (who also co-directed 2007’s Black Water) begins the film with a rather meaningless opening jungle/cave sequence, that shows us what we’re going to expect – less foreshadowing, more indication – and doesn’t offer anything to what follows, bar a few throwaway tenuously-linked plot devices. In truth, we could have got on without it.
After that, we instantaneously flick back into everyday Oz life and meet two couples (and an extra bloke) who are all friends. This consists of Eric (Luke Mitchell), Jennifer (Jessica McNamee), Yolanda (Amali Golden), Viktor (Benjamin Hoetjes) and Cash (Anthony J. Sharpe). They’ve got together for some cave adventures in the wilderness and while there’s a happy vibe, there’s also a clear indication of secrets within their relationships, which isn’t subtle. After this acknowledgement, they drive off into the backwoods, find the cave they’re looking for (which is the main link to that opening scene) and begin their descent into darkness.
As we all know, inexperienced humans thinking they’re experienced in something that could be life-threatening are the worst of all, and these five are messing about with places that haven’t been explored before. But, who cares – they’re looking for adventure and as the light disappears behind them, and the empty expand of darkness lies ahead, a storm brews overhead, which is dramatically represented by some stock shots of heavy rain, an overly tense score and you know what’s coming.
Black Water: Abyss is all about suspending that disbelief and to be fair, once we hit a certain point, it really does ramp up the tension. Moving into the darkness also helps the overly bright HD camera work being displayed in those early outdoor scenes, which cheapens it a little. However, once given restrictions, the camera work becomes more claustrophobic and grittier, which is exactly where we need to be. Because where there’s grain and the unknown, there’s more intrigue.
While initially they steal a move that The Goonies pulls off more successfully (finding a secret underground area) and a re-work of the iconic Jaws theme, when the first look at a lurking crocodile emerges from the rising waters (I already mentioned the storm, right?), they thankfully drop a lot of these homages and move towards a much smarter, more tension-building silence in moments of unknown. Which is hugely welcome and much more effective for the remainder of the movie.
I don’t think I need to delve into spoilers for Black Water: Abyss, but I was intensity focused as the situations began to grow more dire and the stakes (and water levels) are, obviously, higher. While the conclusion of the characters is welcomed, I’d have liked a mix up of the classic ‘boys go looking for help and the girls stay behind’ scenario. If a character is strong enough in itself, you can do this, it is 2020 after all. Saying that, the stand-out actors for me are Amali Golden and Benjamin Hoetjes as Yolanda and Viktor, respectively.
There are moments of BW: Abyss losing focus, as a sub-story about relationship issues distracts, and I don’t think people would care when they’re literally trying to survive, but as the water rises, the crocs get closer and the unknown captures you into their fun, dark, horror-thriller. In similar genres, The Descent leads the way every time and if you’re after intense crocodile action, with probable cause, check out the entertaining Crawl, which is a great example of focusing the story. However, if you love this kind of genre, I think you’ll enjoy the sense of reckless abandon here.