Black Water

Black Water is currently available on instant Netflix.

Black Water (2007) – Rated R

“Inspired by true events, this terrifying tale of man vs. beast follows the ill-fated boat excursion of three vacationers through Northern Australia’s mangrove swamps and their fight for their lives against a ferocious crocodile. When their vessel suddenly overturns and the guide (Ben Oxenbould) disappears into the water, Grace (Diana Glenn), her boyfriend, Adam (Andy Rodoreda), and her younger sister, Lee (Maeve Dermody), must think fast.”

“The Saltwater Crocodile population in Northern Australia is expanding. So is the human population.”

Black Water had the terrible misfortune of suffering from the common idea. Like 2012’s multiple Snow White adaptations, 2007 had a plethora of crocodile movies.Black Water got lost amid the din.

Rogue, set in Australia like Black Water, starred Michael Vartan, Radha Mitchell, and Sam Worthington. Primeval starred Dominic Purcell, Orlando Jones, and Jurgen Prochnow. Lake Placid 2 starred John Schneider and Cloris Leachman. Black Water stars no one – I do not mean that in a mean way, just that Black Water stars no one that people outside of Australia know.

Black Water is clearly the baby of David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki. Both men serve as writers, directors, producers, and both worked on the visual effects. They fashion a very intimate affair here. The entire cast (speaking parts) consists of only five people – four family members and a guide.

For being unknowns, the cast is wonderful. Andy Rodoreda is Adam, a brave and concerned husband on vacation in Australia. Diana Glenn is his pregnant wife, Grace. Maeve Dermody is Grace’s sister, Lee. All three of them show very convincing fear, relief, concern, and panic. Their relationships feel very real. The only other person on their doomed outing is their guide, Jim, played by Ben Oxenbould.

Part of the reason Black Water works so well is the cinematography by John Biggins. Both the aerial shots and the slow traverse by motorboat of the mangrove swamp are gorgeous. There is a dark night scene, lit only by flashes of lightning, that is particularly harrowing.

Thankfully CGI is not used to create an improbably gigantic crocodile. Special effects are kept to a bare minimum. Black Water is not a splatter film. The crocodile shots are wonderful too, using a minimal show, the technique is very reminiscent of Spielberg’s Jaws.

The script handles everything in a very natural manner. After the initial attack and capsizing of the boat, the family takes stock of what they have to work with while they are trapped in a tree. There are a few implausibilities but none so dire as to break the tension.