by Arch Nicholson
I wish I knew what's kept Dark Age from being shown in Australia because maybe if they sorted that out they could release it here. I'm saying that but apparently Synapse Video has obtained the rights to release it in the states at least. And here I spent a year and a half trying to download it. C'est la vie. As a Jaws knock-off, Dark Age hits a surprising number of the proper beats while steering clear of a few others, notably it's stirring conclusion. Sonia Borg is credited as the sole writer on the print I saw but other sources have to other writers, Stephen Cross and Tony Morphett, helping her adapt Grahame Webb's novel Numunwari, apparently as hard or harder to track down as a copy of the film. It's thus impossible to know if Webb was ripping off Steven Spielberg, Peter Benchley or no one at all, and his book morphed into a Jaws copy on the screen. I say that but to be fair Dark Age is probably the best Jaws knock-off I've ever seen. Pair it with Big Alligator River or Tentacles and it's miles ahead. Pair it with Piranha or Alligator and it's still a comfortable distance ahead where craft is concerned. Unlike the smartest of Jaws' many imitators, Dark Age manages a level of style that most never aspired to. Director Arch Nicholson, an old hand at Aussie exploitation films by 1987, having directed the gut-wrenching Fortress and worked second unit on the excellent Razorback, with which Dark Age has much in common, fills the swamps with smoke and too-little light to keep us in suspense until he's ready for the big reveal. The scenes where we get glimpses of it, as in the remarkably effective first-sighting where he eats this movies' Alex Kintner in one very loud bite, do much to simply indicate the size of the creature without spoiling it entirely.
The performances are all, if not great, certainly endearing. The writer and activist Burnham Burnham makes one of only three appearances on film as Oondabund and though I suspect he felt a little patronized doing an Aboriginal version of the Indian companion from any number of American westerns and mother nature's revenge films, he doesn't totally embarrass himself or anything. And it wouldn't be a film about aboriginals without David Gulpilil who, despite looking like one column of an fossilized totem pole, is almost impossible not to like. I've loved him in every film I've ever seen him in and though he's relegated to a kind of silent Quint role, he's still easy to root for. The hillbillies and Nikki Coghill are all fine, as is John Jarratt, who was a little like Australia's Claudio Cassinelli or Kurt Russell until he mostly vanished into TV in the 90s. He had the good fortune of being rediscovered by Greg McLean, who had the genius idea of having Jarratt trade in his good looks and affability for leering menace in the astoundingly good Wolf Creek. Seriously Greg McLean is a fucking genius. But Dark Age... The croc effects are pretty great (though a more trained eye will tell you he changes from a croc to a gator in a few scenes) and though he always has a pretty good sense of where the hero and villain are going to be at any given moment, Nicholson gives as good as he gives, if that makes sense. Yes, there are problems, but ultimately you get to see a big fucking crocodile eat some people and then, in a pretty interesting turn of events, we get treated to a car chase at the end of the picture and even get to feel good about the crocodile eating people! I've accepted logic holes for less. Perhaps if Dark Age hadn't been so handsomely put together I'd be willing to scrutinize but something about good Australian exploitation warms my heart. After waiting as long as I did, I'm glad it didn't disappoint.
by David Nerlich & Andrew Traucki
I'd like very much to show Black Water to the makers of made-for-syfy (née Sci-Fi) channel original movies to show what you can do with virtually no money. The plot couldn't be simpler: three people stuck in a tree while a hungry croc waits for his chance to eat them. And yet...it's almost perfect. Our three performers, Diana Glenn, Maeve Dermody and Andy Rodoreda are above-average and believable. The trouble with a situation film like this is convincing us that the mistakes made by the characters aren't so huge that the film hinges on them, but big enough that they ratchet up the tension those few needed notches. Black Water's steaks are almost hopelessly average. The croc is big but by no means fantastical (and frankly it doesn't have to be. Having lately become addicted to River Monsters, I'm terrified enough of ordinary creatures) and the scenery is sunny and open yet feels claustrophobic. Grace's decision to try and see how far the tree branches lead her is incredibly thrilling, even if it is a slowly paced scene. You know that this is the extent of the traveling we'll do and directors David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki put all of our/their hope in how far she can get. They make little things into big deals with little to no frills. In fact the only part of the movie you might confuse with something trashy and made-for-tv is an opening montage of vacation photos of Grace, Lee and Adam set to a rather terrible pop song. Both times I've watched this film I've been totally annoyed by this scene until I'm up in the tree hearing the crocodile chew on body parts and then I remember why that stupid goddamn song is there. If we didn't care, if we weren't lulled into seeing these three as people then we wouldn't have much invested when the croc shows up. Like Open Water, it hedges it's bets showing you a lot of the lives of their heroes before tormenting them. I remember a long time ago watching deleted scenes for that piece of shit Deep Blue Sea and hearing Renny Harlin talk about he cut a scene where we learn that one of his characters was pregnant. He felt it made her getting eaten by a shark harder for the audience to take. Now that movie was a piece of shit and so really it wouldn't have mattered but movies like Black Water and Open Water don't have to worry necessarily about those decisions because their about people rather than characters. You don't have to worry about how best to sympathize with people, that just happens if you've really done your job as an actor. And here, they have.
Of course because these are just people, an air of grimness hangs heavy over the proceedings. Unlike Open Water you do get a few moment's respite and the music is in on it this time. Rafael May's score is one of the few things that make the film a little less than real but considering how good it is, I don't so much mind. The minimalist guitar and cello themes are really excellent and do so much to keep you on edge. Of course no music probably could have done that, too, but I understand the impulse. But the biggest thing keeping the audience on edge is the crocodile itself. It's clearly a real croc for most of the film and the stand-ins they use for close-ups are flawless. In Rogue, for example, the CG was a touch more apparent because we were dealing with a monster, a freak. That the effects happened to be excellent was a plus, to be sure, but Rogue was so entertaining that it didn't matter so much. Rogue was basically a slasher film whose killer happened to be a giant croc and Greg McLean is a fucking genius so of course it worked. Rogue actually has more in common with Dark Age tonally than Black Water and if I were a bit more savvy and smart I'd probably have paired them, but whatever. Black Water is more subtle than both films and gets by on nerves for most of the film but it also knows when to unleash a giant motherfucking crocodile. And ultimately, isn't that what we all want to see?
Dinocroc Vs. Supergator
by Rob Robertson
Against it: Well it stoops to ripping off fucking Jurassic Park, for one. It believes a gator the size of a hummer limousine can hide in six inches of water, for another. It's steeped in a blinding, MTV-like colour palette that's almost as blinding as the performances are deafening. And then there's David Carradine not really earning all that good credit Quentin Tarantino gave to him with those Kill Bill movies. But then Michael Madsen and John Travolta haven't done much since Tarantino brushed the dust of them, either...And I guess Sonny Chiba had to take that part in The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift, so...I'm sorry I lost my train of thought...right, big fucking gators. Yeah, so this movie is silly as shit and really too boring to be quite as fun as it needs to be. It's called fucking Dinocroc Vs. Supergator, so really this ought to be a non-stop, rip-roaring ride, people getting tore up every six seconds and the like. This was not that. So while I knew it would be spectacularly terrible, I was hoping it'd do a little more to earn my respect. But then Corman's movies were never as exciting as they ought to have been. You needed a first rate talent like Joe Dante or Peter Bogdanovich to get something worth the price of a ticket and Rob Robertson (if that is your real name) is no such thing. So all in all I'm rather glad I came back for this last stop in Crocton. A good croc movie can be really satisfying and I was entertained by all three of these films, yes even the silly one. It's tough to lose when you pick a movie with a big fucking gator running the show.