Film Review: Piranha 3D

We Are Going to Eat You.

Piranha 3D

Directed by Alexandre Aja

89 minutes


As a half-assed disclaimer: I won’t apologize for the geekiness inherent in being a horror aficionado in my mid 30’s. I read the magazines, check the websites, read the reviews, listen to the rumors, follow the podcasts, etc, etc. And at no time in my life has it been easier to be such a fan; horror films from across the globe are tracked, reviewed, and then easily accessible once they are released. As a youth, I’d often times have to track down such films in Chicago. Now, wherever you are, you can access obscure horror films with the click of a button.  EVERYTHING that has to do with horror is truly global. From dime-a-dozen websites reviewing the classics, and spewing up-to-minute news on the new stuff, to CNN discussing Human Centipede, horror is truly just a mouse click away.

And what does this have to do with Piranha 3D? Well, my point is two-fold.

First, and most importantly, is the build up for the film is directly related to the modern horror world of today as described above. At first glance, the very concept of the film to the untrained eye is ludicrous, but to horror fans who are tracking such releases, it held GREAT promise. The original Piranha, directed by Joe Dante, was definitely a self-aware parody of Jaws, full of inside jokes, and in the spirit of “fun” films that Dante would go on to make, such as The Howling, Gremlins and The ‘Burbs. The source material’s tone, we were told, would be respected and kept in tack; definitely a GOOD thing. It was to be a popcorn movie that wouldn’t take itself too seriously, based on an entertaining film to begin with. News filtered through the horror community, and whispers were that it might be one to keep an eye out for. I was cautiously optimistic.

Secondly, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was well aware of who director Alexandre Aja was when it was announced that he was tied to the project. Frenchman Aja burst onto the scene with a nasty, mean-spirited little horror film called Haute Tension (re-titled both High Tension and more puzzlingly, Switchblade Romance here in the states.) It brought a much needed toughness back to horror after enduring a seemingly never-ending run of hipster horror aping unsuccessfully the original Scream. Save for the groaner of a twist ending that one could see miles ahead when one became aware that there was a “twist,” it was a very good film – it pulled no punches with practical gore, and no one was spared. Aja followed it up with an equally brutal remake of classic Wes Craven feature The Hills Have Eyes, which as far as remakes go, was one of the better ones in recent memory. His third film was, to me, his least successful, but nevertheless, was an interesting failure called Mirrors staring Keifer Sutherland. So with Aja involved, I felt that one of horror’s top directors, with a good pedigree, would deliver the goods. My expectations were high. I waited.

The results? Very disappointing. There are a lot of things wrong with this film, most of which critics and audiences will write were intentional, and many of which no doubt are, but still, it misses the mark with said intentional fun and campiness, too. At least that’s how I see it.

By now, if you are reading this, then you probably know the basic premise, and you need not know much more. Prehistoric piranha are set free in a spring break destination lake in Arizona. Total chaos ensues, and lunch is served. I’m still with the movie here – bring it on home.

The opening with Richard Dreyfuss (very clearly playing Matt Hooper from Jaws) is fairly funny, but it also illustrates on a smaller level the larger problems of the film as a whole; I was left wanting a bit more, as would be the case throughout. Sure, it’s kind of wink-wink nudge-nudge funny seeing Matt Hooper attacked by piranha, but very early on it demonstrates a problem which the whole movie suffers from – big promise, and little delivery.

The piranha themselves at times look kind of cool, cartoony and ferocious (much more Gremlins than anything realistic) but when CGI-ed (and they are CGI-ed often) the action is too dark, too fast, too blurry to actually tell what the hell is going on. The CGI isn’t *bad* per se, but the practical gore really, really slays it, which makes me question why Aja relied on CGI so heavily. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really well executed gore effects and a lot of them, and again, some of the CGI is cool (Eli Roth’s demise was pretty awesome) but all in all, it just doesn’t deliver on the “fun” promised until the large set-piece piranha attack at the end, and even then, it still feels….eh.

A large problem I had with the film (and this may not be entirely fair) was how incredibly lame the whole spring break/”let’s make a porno” schtick is handled. I had read reviews the promised copious nudity, and was well up for that. Again, a great big – eh. A few tit shots here and there, as well as an extended underwater porn/lesbian scene that is straight out of a Mel Brooks movie, it was nothing to write home about. Not only that, but the cast is very lackluster – douchebag Jerry O’Connell is in obnoxious overdrive and gets way too much screen time, as well as what is likely the film’s most notorious piranha gag. The main youth in the film is also an annoying asshole, and the entire film I prayed for his demise. The only character who has any personality is Adam Scott, who seems at least in on the joke. Christopher Lloyd also cameos as pretty much Doc Brown from Back to the Future, but he hams it up so much that it literally took my interest out of any scene he was in.

Bottom line: look, I KNEW going in that the movie was going to be complete trash, but was hopeful it was going to be entertaining trash. Hell, it’s even getting pretty damn solid reviews. But sadly, I gotta shake my head and say this one missed the mark on every level they were going for, save the practical gore effects, which in fairness, were many and were damn solid. However, a 60 minute build up to a 20 minute attack sequence, with a few attacks thrown in here and there in between, bad performances throughout, unlikable characters, and under-delivering for the most part for 3/4 of the movie, I was very disappointed in the finished product.

The guilty pleasure I had hoped for turned out to be a TV movie comparable to the Lou Diamond Phillips bull shark vehicle Red Water, with some nudity, some really good gore, and some really big problems.

Addendum: the 3D wasn’t very inspired, either. I’m not impressed with the whole phenomenon, to be honest. Would have worked much better in 2D.

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