With so much misinformation flying around these days, we don’t readily attach credence to any movie claiming it is “based on true events.” That is exactly what was written on posters for Andrew Traucki’s Black Water. In its defense, the indie movie was inspired by a real-life case of children being stranded in a tree as a saltie lurked below. What of the sequel, though? It’s doubtful Black Water: Abyss is based on anything factual.
Although the followup to Traucki’s 2007 debut feature is a complete work of fiction, that doesn’t mean it’s far removed from reality. Australia has parts where saltwater crocodiles roam freely with no natural predators, after all. The difference now, however, is neither Traucki nor his co-writer David Nerlich penned the script. Rather, Ian John Ridley and Sarah Smith were given the opportunity to throw some Aussies into a very bad situation.
The movie follows two couples and their guide as they enter an unexplored cave system in Northern Australia. As they make their way through the pitch-black environment, they encounter a voracious crocodile in the water. With the territorial beast swimming between them and the exit, the group is forced to find another way out before they become the creature’s next meal.
A few factors made the original movie so memorable. For one thing, they used a real crocodile during some scenes. This heightened the tension as you never knew what to expect — surely the crew felt the same way. Here, it’s unclear how much of the movie utilizes a flesh-and-blood croc. Based on what is presumably a bigger budget, the reptilian villain is more artificial than alive. Still, the scenes where the lone hunter rears it jaws and snatches an unlucky character look convincing enough.
Any moment where the crocodile does emerge is hindered by spotty lighting and sable surroundings. They happen so quickly with very little lingering shots on the crocodile, as well. Not showing too much of the monster is always the better choice as audiences will become less desensitized whenever it is on screen. In this case, the sparse appearances and low visibility hinder the sort of character building from the previous movie. The croc there exhibited some semblance of personality just by floating to the surface and toying with its prey. Meanwhile, in Abyss, the humans and their scuted foe have minimal psychological interaction outside the attacks.
When they’re not being lunged at or fed on, the humans infrequently air their own personal grievances. Pregnancy woes, infidelity, waning love — it’s all there. The characters have enough problems to contend with without having a crocodile around to muck things up even more. The drama is aimed to humanize the cast, but it never quite seals the deal. Be that as it may, the writers’ refusal to soap things up to a level that is often unbearable in these kinds of situations is appreciated.
Abyss keeps itself grounded without ever coming off as fantastical. The crocodile doesn’t act uncharacteristically; it’s not defying the laws of nature or exhibiting any sort of behavior that may suggest it’s more than a mere animal. The movie plays things straight, by and large. The stunts are reasonable and the decisions are understandable. Initially, there may have been some concern about this standalone sequel being more commercial and over-polished. The cast is conventionally attractive and the plot sounds a tad ridiculous on paper. Nevertheless, Traucki remains true to himself. He doesn’t subscribe to the overworked and overstated style that instantly turns heads and supersedes story. The director follows the instincts that made his animal trilogy — a trio of bestial delights that included the original Black Water, The Reef, and The Jungle — so striking. The practical approach to a killer croc movie isn’t always the most desirable choice, but it is certainly easier to swallow.
Traucki’s long overdue return is not without its flaws: uninteresting characters, middling setpieces, and a lack of risks on the director’s part. On the upside, the crocodile is effectually scary despite its meager screentime, and the movie never becomes a spectacle. All in all, Black Water: Abyss performs the work with above-average competence, but it struggles to stay afloat.