Starring: Jessica McNamee, Luke Mitchell, Amali Golden
Director: Andrew Traucki
Running Time: 98 mins
Black Water: Abyss is an Australian film about a group of friends who become stuck in a remote cave system while out in the jungle, and must find a way out before a hungry crocodile picks off every one of them.
I would never expect a movie like this to rival the very best in creature feature horror, but even then there are times when Black Water: Abyss is a desperately disappointing watch. Though surprisingly effective at building tension, the film squanders every single opportunity for a good scare, all the while fumbling an attempt at character drama to bring a little more depth to proceedings.
If you’re just flicking around on streaming searching for a horror movie where you’ll see a bit of action in the first couple of minutes, then this is the film for you. Opening with a short prologue that introduces us to the killer croc, Black Water: Abyss immediately has the appeal of any other lightweight creature feature, albeit in doing so ruining the potential for unnerving mystery later on.
Horror films can take two approaches to scaring you: patient, unsettling mystery where ambiguity and uncertainty are the most frightening of all; or a steady procession of jump scares. Black Water: Abyss tries to do both, and unfortunately misses the mark twice.
Whilst I appreciate how the film uses its jump scares quite sparingly, the pay-off for lengthy periods of well-built tension is so, so disappointing. The screenplay is fairly episodic, with each period of quiet tension building towards an inevitable jump scare, which isn’t a particularly interesting way to tell a story.
The movie does try to bring a bit of character depth into play about halfway through with a very superficial bit of emotional conflict, but it’s too little and far, far too late. So, you’re really banking on the movie’s jump scares frightening your socks off to get something good out of it.
Although it does build tension surprisingly well at times, Black Water: Abyss misses every single opportune moment for a great jump scare. Every time, when it could insert a quick, shocking fright that would up the ante a little, it sits back pointlessly, ruining the anticipation and squandering the tension that’s been built up for a good few minutes beforehand.
The fact that this keeps happening all the way through the film is enormously disappointing, and you eventually begin to lose faith in its ability to ever scare you. That does in part make it an easier and fluffier watch, as you stop sitting on the edge of your seat, but it’s clear that it’s more of a failure on the film’s own part.
Director Andrew Traucki does little to use the film’s setting to good effect, proving a rather bland portrayal of a labyrinthine cave system that feels much more like the mediocre 47 Metres Down: Uncaged than the excellent underground horror The Descent.
In general, Black Water: Abyss is consistently disappointing right up to its final few moments, when it suddenly turns into a brilliantly entertaining thriller. I won’t spoil how things end, but the movie changes dramatically in its last ten minutes from jump scare-reliant horror to fast-paced survival thriller, and it’s so much more fun to watch like that.
The last scene is really great, cleverly subverting your expectations while still providing a satisfying and action-packed conclusion to what had previously been a very disappointing story. Unfortunately, it’s too little and again way too late, but at least things end on a high.
Overall, I was disappointed by Black Water: Abyss. Although not a total disaster, it’s a poorly-executed creature feature that fails to use tension, jump scares, its setting or its characters to particularly good effect, regularly squandering easy opportunities it sets up for itself. The last few minutes, however, are great, leaving things on a positive note, so that’s why I’m giving it a 6.4.