Everyone wants to be isolated from the rest of the world, until they actually are. I recently took my fiancé on a little trip up into the Northern Minnesota wilderness. We stayed in an isolated little cabin on Lake Superior, surrounded by only the woods and wildlife. It was really relaxing, but my mind kept wandering every time I glanced out over the water. What creatures we swimming just below the surface? What secrets did the cold depths of that spectacular lake hold? If I were to get in a kayak and navigate my way a little bit off the shore, would something brush the bottom of my vessel? Would I be tipped over and pulled beneath the waves? When you’re isolated on an island or on a remote shore, the water (or, what is in the water) is your enemy. The cold darkness is what you need to be afraid of. Your only respite from this anxiety is the feeling of safety you get just from being on land. If you never go into the water, then nothing can get you. Just don’t be stupid, right? The rocky shore is the magical barrier that keeps the bad out and your family safe. In Island Zero, the horror debut from Josh Gerritsen, the land you stand on is no longer your safe harbor. Something is hungry, and it has come out of the depths to find its next meal.

Written by Josh’s mother, New York Bestselling Author Tess Gerritsen, Island Zero is a low budget horror film with a low budget premise. What if the ferry that supplies a small Maine island with everything it needs to survive from the mainland (from medicine to diesel fuel to their Amazon packages), just stops coming? What if the phones go out, the internet crashes and you begin to run out of that valuable fuel for your generators? What if you are truly isolated from the rest of the world when the bodies begin to show up?

 

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Marine Biologist Sam (Adam Wade McLaughlin) begins to notice that all of the marine life in the area has dried up. Fishermen are coming back with empty nets and even emptier wallets. None of these crusty old sailors seem to be too worried by it, except for Sam, who’s wife had been researching phenomena like this before she mysteriously disappeared at sea four years earlier. He is obsessed with her old research, claiming that there is a new apex predator in the waters that we have not discovered yet and that they are migrating northward due to climate change. Most everyone on the island scoffs at the idea, until the ferry doesn’t show up one day.

Then it doesn’t show for three more days. The power is out, supplies are dwindling, and a young man named Emmett doesn’t return from a trip to the mainland. His boat is found, for sure, only it has blood streaking the hull and a blue goo on the deck. Sam, along with his girlfriend Lucy (Teri Reeves) and daughter, island doctor Maggie (Laila Robins) and stranded author Titus (Matthew Wilkas) join the locals as they try anything to contact the outside world. What follows is a tale of survival as they are faced with a predator from the ocean that cannot be seen with the naked eye and is as smart, hungry, and as capable of evil as any human on that island.

 

Being written by Tess Gerritsen, the dialogue and scene structure are well above average for a movie of this budget and production. She moves the story along for the first hour of the film with well delivered, never boring exposition that not only invests us in the characters we meet, but also builds a pretty tense mystery surrounding this small island. We have the scientific expert, Sam, but even he doubts some of his late wife’s findings. There is a delicious air of intrigue that pours through every frame of the first two acts of the film that easily makes the film worth it’s rental price. The actors, made up of 75% locals, do a fantastic job digging us into the local flavor of Maine with their accents and their no-nonsense way of life. Adam Wade McLaughlin (Sam), Teri Reeves (Lucy) and Anna Gravél (local waitress Nina) are all professionals in the trade, but give a significant weight to their performances and care enough about their characters to make us do the same.

 

“The underlying mystery, gorgeous setting and killer synth score from Clayton Worbeck give the first hour of Island Zero a very real The Stranger Things vibe..”

 

The underlying mystery, gorgeous setting and killer synth score from Clayton Worbeck give the first hour of Island Zero a very real The Stranger Things vibe. There are obvious mistakes in the film that are directly related to budget and production time restrictions (like coloring issues and some audio missteps), but I kept finding myself overlooking these issues and getting caught up in the lives of these people on the island. There are three or four truly gross-out moments of practical gore effects that were really well done and show the care and passion that Josh and his crew had for the project. If the film was an hour long episode of The X-Files, then it would have easily gotten a 3.5/4 from me in this review, but, there had to be a third act and that is where the film fell flat for me.

I can’t blame the director or crew too much for the late-film issues, because it was a story that required some CGI creature design that they simply did not have the budget for. The concept that the creatures were masters of camouflage and could not be seen with the naked eye was, I thought, a brilliant way to keep us in suspense and still deliver some grody kills. We could not see them, so they could be anywhere and strike any any time. It was a great plot point that kept the audience engaged even when we weren’t seeing the creatures attack. You can’t keep that up forever, however, so the film had to finally show the creatures through the thermal camera that Sam’s daughter received for Christmas. Couple their underwhelming design and execution with the military-as-evil plot that we have seen a hundred times before, and you get a third act that doesn’t quite live up to the magic that Josh and Tess were able to spin in the first hour of the film.

All of that being said, see this film. It’s a fun monster movie that builds believable characters and disposes of them in exciting, gross, and practical ways. The setting is knock-out gorgeous and everyone involved worked with an earnestness that is evident in every single shot of the film. The acting is very well done and the writing is better than what you’re going to get from any other low-budget feature you’ll see this year. Island Zero, while it has its budget-related faults, does more with less than many of the high-dollar monster outings we have seen in the past. Do yourself a favor and check it out Tuesday, May 15th through any Video On Demand provider. You won’t be sorry.

 2.5/4 Eberts

 

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