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Piranha 3D – Review

Piranha 3D – Review

Aug 20, 2010

reviewed by hallo
directed by Alexandre Aja, 2010
(to read Danny’s review of Piranha 3D, click here)

Anytime the initial scene of a horror movie reveals someone hanging out in a boat in the middle of a seemingly deserted lake, you can bet your bottom dollar that extreme campiness will follow (Lake Placid, Hatchet).  Piranha 3D keeps that tradition alive.  After a small earthquake creates an opening to a separate underground lake that had been sealed off from the main Lake Victoria for millions of years, a deadly species of piranha, presumed to have been been extinct for years, are now able to make their way to Lake Victoria.  The arrival of the flesh-eating fish is ill-timed since it is spring break week and thousands of hormone filled young people are enjoying their free time on the lake.  The stage is set for hardcore carnage.

The movie follows the plight of young Jake, a teenager still living at home under the care of his mom, who is also the town sherrif, played wonderfully by Elizabeth Shue.  Instead of fulfilling his obligations as a babysitter to his younger brother and sister, Jake sets out on a boat with a small crew from a “Girls Gone Wild” rip-off as their “location scout.”  While on the lake, the piranha discover the buffet of people available to them and the crystal clear water soon turns dark red.  Lots of blood and lots of body parts make up the rest of the film.

A quick perusal of RottenTomatoes.com will show a “fresh” rating of 81%.  What is interesting about the reviews, however, is that many critics associated with RottenTomatoes.com echo sentiments similar to Beth Accomando who says, “The new Piranha 3D lived down to my absolute lowest expectations and I say that with nothing but gleeful affection.”  I, unfortunately, agree with her assessment but cannot agree with her conclusion.  Despite some strong performances and a few effective death scenes which I will mention below, the film falls woefully short.

The primary reason for my disappoint with the film is its ridiculously over-the-top sexual exploitation.  Whereas many horror films effectively utilize sexuality to improve the telling of the story, Piranha 3D simply needed something for the viewers to watch in-between kill scenes.  That something was a bunch of sex-starved college students going a step beyond the antics of Mardi-Gras relocated on an otherwise serene lake.  A few times during the film I was embarrassed to be in the theater even though I was by myself.  I am also getting a bit weary of movies doing a rip-off of “Girls Gone Wild” as a main part of their storyline.  It was just too much.

I was also disappointed with both the 3-D filming and the underwater struggles with the piranhas.  Many times, thanks to a massive amount of blood and the lack of clarity with the 3-D, much of the action was unrecognizable.  You couldn’t really make out what you were watching much of time during underwater scenes.  Add to that the reality that Piranha 3D has absolutely nothing to say about anything (by design no doubt) and I am left underwhelmed.

Nevertheless, the film does have its bright spots.  Elizabeth Shue is wonderful, as always, and brought a much needed serious tone to the film.  Her performance was especially interesting after recently podcasting on the topic of whether or not horror movies are misogynistic.  Richard Dreyfus, who is the unfortunate soul to first meet the piranhas, was fun to watch although he reminded you how much better Jaws is than this film.  For me, the highlight of the movie was a brief appearance by Christopher Lloyd as the old scientist who correctly identified the species of piranha unleashed in the lake.  It was as if Doc Brown had shifted his scientific prowess from a time travel expert to an ichthyologist.

Amid the mostly disappointing and convoluted kill scenes were a few memorable ones.  The best by far was the burrowing of a piranha into the stomach of a helpless lady only to explode out of her mouth a few moments later.  There was also a nice scene of a boat line falling down and slicing a young lady in half – Aja allowed 5-6 seconds of time to elapse before showing that she had been cut.

Overall, I am glad I saw the movie.  It is certainly possible that my expectations for the film were way too high.  I can’t fully recommend it and would heavily caution parents before allowing young people to see this film.  Yet, it is fun in parts, there is a great cast, and every now then you will find yourself smiling.  I guess that is more than I can say for a lot of horror films out there.  Proceed with caution.

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