REVIEWED: PIRANHA 3D
August 26, 2010 Leave a comment
It it said that at such a high level of proficiency, almost anything can be made an art of. To that effect, splatter maestro Alexandre Aja might just have made a veritable installation at the Guggenheim with his unapologetically exploitative gore-and-skin-fest remake Piranha 3D. Most sensible filmgoers will have quite rightly dismissed the film the second they saw the title, let alone sat through the trailer, yet there’s an odd sense of craft and diligence at play here, for Aja has perfectly replicated the style and tone of classic exploitation in a way filmmakers tap into now generally only through irony. Make no mistake, Piranha 3D is hilarious, but its tongue-in-cheek demeanour is perfectly balanced with strictly old-school gore and nudity. Simply, this is as joyous an exercise in pure gratuity as you’re likely to see this year, possibly next year, and maybe even a few after that. Given that this year alone has had The Expendables and has Machete incoming, that’s no coy statement.
The title tells you everything you need know about the plot; as the Spring Break party erupts in Arizona and thousands of alcohol-addled teens descend upon Lake Victoria, an angry swarm of hungry, prehistoric piranhas escape their imprisonment beneath, and begin tearing anyone they can find to pieces. Meanwhile, well-to-do Sheriff Julie Forester (Elizabeth Shue) tries to maintain order alongside Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames), while hoping that her hormone-infused teen son Jake (Steven R. McQueen) will stay out of the water and babysit his siblings, despite promising to scout locations for porn director Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell). Jake, tempted by the gorgeous star of Derrick’s show, Danni (Kelly Brook), disobeys his mother, heading off on a boat with Derrick and company, leaving his siblings at home to their own devices. Naturally, things go wrong, and everyone winds up in mortal danger as the famished beasties approach.
Curiously, there is a lot of build-up before the eventual Spring Break slaughter scene, with it taking close to an hour to truly kick off. Though a few kills are sprinkled throughout the first two acts, it is all about the 3D-enhanced comedy and the sex appeal for the large part. The 3D here is often gimmicky, exploiting objects being thrown at the screen that are little more than a blur of CGI, but it has also been used for strange, and wonderfully satisfying purposes for any heterosexual male worth his salt. Never before has 3D facilitated Kelly Brook and Riley Steele performing an oddly serene – and absolutely sexy – form of nude underwater ballet that is at once hilarious and incredibly flustering. By comparison, the fairly liberal 3D nudity of My Bloody Valentine 3D seems like a mere sneak of breast; here Aja probably breaks a Guinness World Record for the breast-per-shot ratio in any commercially released film that isn’t a porno.
Aja isn’t just interested in three-dimensional voyeurism, though; one of the memorable nudity-free 3D shots has a character’s foot get cut on stones, and as their blood passes into the water, 3D is used to distinguish between the blood and the water, accentuating the aggression and importance to the piranhas that they find more of this blood. It might seem basic, but the depth of field throughout is incredibly well realised, and Aja has clearly chosen his shots well to accommodate 3D despite choosing to convert the film to 3D in post-production (reportedly because the 3D cameras were too unwieldy for what Aja wanted to shoot). Similarly, 3D is also used incredibly well in several of the film’s more suspenseful moments, emphasising the proximity of the piranhas to the scarcely alive heroes. Without a doubt, the 3D here is some of the best you’ll have yet seen, and finally, a film has done service to post-production 3D, because it’s likely only James Cameron himself would be able to tell that this wasn’t shot in 3D.
Sleaziness is Aja’s paramount concern, but there are are some pleasingly referential moments; Richard Dreyfuss’ cameo as a virutal reprise of his Matt Hooper character in Jaws is brief but amusing, and Christopher Lloyd’s extended appearance as an eccentric, fish-obsessed scientist sharply recalls Doc from Back to the Future, as he manically booms “This particular kind of piranha vanished off the earth two million years ago!”. Eli Roth also appears briefly as a wet T-shirt contest host who meets a hilariously grisly fate. Unlike too many films of this sort, the references are never overplayed, and building up to that big feast of gore is Aja’s only concern.
And the near-hour wait for the climactic stand-off is absolutely worth it, not that you’ll be bored in the interim. From people being sliced in half, to other people being skinned alive, decapitated, and castrated by the piranhas, you can practically hear the BBFC’s collective back breaking as they let this one through the gate. Though the gore is often funny in context – such as when one character’s lower body is merely a skeleton once the piranhas are through with it – it is also stomach-churningly revolting as often. The relentlessness of the violence once it kicks off makes it hard to imagine anyone being disappointed by what has been cooked up here, even if the wait is a touch too long.
Is Piranha a good film? No. Is it a good movie? Absolutely. Outdoing Joe Dante’s original by a fair measure in terms of savage gore and gratuitous nudity, this is how more horror films should be remade, in as much as respecting the original’s low-rent origins while infusing enough of a modern sensibility to keep audiences entertained. Few, I think, will decry a lack of gore or breasts in this film. Similarly, you won’t be left wanting for a plot, because anyone going to see a film called Piranha 3D shouldn’t be expecting one. What they should expect is the inevitable sequel, yet for that rare time in modern horror, it might be one worth watching, if Aja hasn’t depleted the world’s supply of fake blood already.