BLACK WATER: ABYSS (2020)

Black Water - Abyss.jpg

Studio:      Screen Media
Director:    Andrew Traucki
Writer:      Ian John Ridley, Sarah Smith
Producer:  Neal Kingston, Michael Robertson, Pam Collis
Stars:     Jessica McNamee, Luke Mitchell, Amali Golden, Benjamin Hoetjes, Anthony J. Sharpe

Review Score:

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Summary:

A cave exploration adventure turns into a nightmare when rising floodwaters trap five friends underground with a killer crocodile.


Synopsis:     

Review:

Big blockbusters get sequels every three years or so. Sleeper indie hits like 2007¡¯s ¡°Black Water¡± (review here) have to wait four times as long.

¡°Black Water: Abyss¡± isn¡¯t really a sequel though. More of a ¡®spiritual successor¡¯ that follows a similar setup, ¡°Abyss¡± doesn¡¯t include any carryover characters or continue any preexisting storylines. This follow-up exists entirely as its own thing, meaning viewers don¡¯t have to be familiar with the first film at all.

In fact, if you¡¯re out for original entertainment, it¡¯s probably preferable to not have the previous movie on your mind. ¡°Abyss¡± walks so precisely in ¡°Black Water¡¯s¡± boots, the two movies are virtually identical in concept. They practically echo each other in execution too. Just like ¡°Black Water,¡± ¡°Abyss¡¯s¡± first act introductions include a scene of packing supplies, an interlude at a bar, a freeze-frame series of smiling snapshots, even establishment of a Chekhov¡¯s gun for use in a d¨¦j¨¤ vu finale. It¡¯s befuddling to see that ¡°Abyss¡± boasts two new writers when it seems like it¡¯s cribbing from the exact same script and storyboards used for ¡°Black Water.¡±

¡°Black Water¡± was about three friends, and one unfortunate guide, stalked by a crocodile after their rowboat overturned in an Australian river. ¡°Black Water: Abyss¡± is about four friends, and one unfortunate guide, stalked by a crocodile after floodwaters trap them in an Australian cave. It¡¯s like someone took the premise of the first film and asked, ¡°What if instead of being stuck up a tree for an hour, we inverted the idea and trapped everyone on a rock ledge underground?¡± That¡¯s enough of a distinction to qualify as different, although the location change gives us a lot less to look at since we¡¯re locked inside a dark tunnel rather than outdoors in sunny woods.

On the glass half full side, at least ¡°Abyss¡± incorporates dangers other than the crocodile, which ¡°Black Water¡± didn¡¯t have a whole lot of. Back on the half empty side however, extra attention paid to fears of drowning, cave-ins, asthma attacks, and running out of air means the crocodile plays less of a role than he did last time. There may be more bodies for it to chew on, but we see the crocodile less frequently as ¡°Abyss¡± makes way for our heroes and heroines to do a lot of wading around while gasping for air and flinching at gurgles.

A cold open where two Japanese hikers meet a sudden and predictable fate appeases immediate appetites that have to wait another 25 minutes before action intensifies again. In the meantime, Eric and Viktor, their respective girlfriends Jennifer and Yolanda, and inexperienced spelunker Cash, whose nickname correctly identifies him as a hapless poseur, hit up a subterranean cavern where no human has been before. Too bad their group has the bad luck of a sudden storm causing a nearby river to burst its banks barely 10 minutes into their trek, unleashing a tidal torrent to trap them underground.

¡°Black Water¡± featured only one bit of backstory development for its main characters, which was one of the women being secretly pregnant. It doesn¡¯t matter if you don¡¯t remember because ¡°Black Water¡± didn¡¯t meaningfully weave that thread into its narrative. True to form as a copycat, an unrevealed pregnancy turns out to be the only sort of subplot going on in ¡°Black Water: Abyss¡± too. Unfortunately, ¡°Abyss¡± compounds this clich¨¦ by baking the pregnancy into an ¡°I¡¯m secretly sleeping with my best friend¡± love triangle. Worse still, the countdown clock on their soap opera confrontation expires at a time when bringing up infidelity is a laughable lark compared to dealing with ten different ways to die while surrounded by several half-eaten corpses.

¡°Black Water: Abyss¡± is basically ¡°Black Water¡± director Andrew Traucki, uncoupled from previous partner David Nerlich, remaking his earlier effort under slightly altered conditions. ¡°Abyss¡± benefits from 13 additional years of experience under Traucki¡¯s belt. So if ¡°Black Water¡± wasn¡¯t polished enough for your tastes, ¡°Abyss¡± has sleeker curves, handles corners with more maneuverability, and comes with the cosmetics of a new model vehicle fresh from the film factory.

¡°Abyss¡± doesn¡¯t benefit from being stamped out on the same assembly line as its predecessor. Watching thinly-defined people worry, argue, and evade a crocodile over 90+ minutes doesn¡¯t have the same impact on a second go. Claustrophobic threats have a tough time catching fire amid all that visually unappealing blackness as well. You¡¯re best off taking ¡°Black Water: Abyss¡± as an independent entity from its namesake. Even then, you¡¯d still do well to pack snacks, supplies, and survival gear for an average adventure into shadowbox suspense.

Review Score: 50