• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

Non-Review Review: Piranha 3D

You know, I wanted to like Piranha 3D. I really did. I like a certain level of schlock and self-awareness which a film like this really just promises. Hell, I’ll normally even acknowledge that a one-note film can strike that one note particularly well. Unfortunately, Piranha 3D is just… well, let’s just say I’d probably enjoy skinny-dipping with the eponymous monsters more than watching them.

Fish out of water...

Watching it, I had to wonder how a film like this could go so far wrong. I mean, the clue is in the title. It’s a monster movie made with the gimmicky trend of the particular moment. It’s going to be trash. It’s going to be pants. It can at least be entertaining rubbish. The very premise of the movie – a prehistoric piranha infestation as teens flock to the lake for the debauchery of Spring Break – indicates that those involved in the film should know that this is a dodgy premise and it’s one not to be taken seriously.

However, the film insists on taking itself seriously.

Take, for example, the manner in which the movie offers it’s seemingly obligatory T & A. Now, in an exploitation film like this, they are all but expected by the audience – it’s a staple of this particular brand of B-movie. So, you know, have some fun with it. This isn’t the seventies anymore – porn is freely available over the internet. Anyone who wants boobs can find them over a modem quickly and efficiently enough, without having to worry about cardboard dialogue or bad acting. So, the only reason to include it in a film like this is to play with it – to have a bit of fun about how gratuitous the showing of flesh is in these sorts of films. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t get the memo. Instead, it flashes the flesh with an almost disturbing perverse earnestness.

It should be Piranha DD...

Hell, it even builds a subplot around having women do sexy things to one another – using the pretense of a “Girls Gone Wild” video shoot. This might provide an opportunity for an exploration of how pornography infiltrates the mainstream through such seemingly “harmless” videos, but it ends up playing out as almost an example itself. It’s as if the movie doesn’t expect you to laugh at the way it treats sex (and will claim you are ruining the mood by doing so), and instead wants you to be titillated by it. It feels somewhat disgusting – like I could have gone out and bought a “Girls Gone Wild” video if I wanted this sort of thing.

The rest of the film is pretty much pants as well, unfortunately. From the CGI used to render the killer fish (which looks like it came from a SyFy original movie) through to the blurry 3D effect, it’s corny beyond belief. And not in a self-aware way either. It’s clear when the movie wants you to laugh, but it’s also clear there are moments when the film expects you to tense up in your seat. It’s a little awkward, because it never feels like the terrible nature of the film is intentional, and the self-awareness seems to have been focused around the least essential parts (the “shock ending” for example).

Enough rope to hang itself...

The movie contains a pretty deadly cast, which is why I was so disappointed to discover how crap it was. A film featuring Richard Dreyfus, Elizabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Ving Rhames and Christopher Lloyd should be able to get by on knowing winks and nods. Instead, the movie locks you in a dead serious and self-important stare – like that kid in your English class who read Shakespeare with the intensity that suggested he was destined for the Royal Shakespearean Society, despite the fact he couldn’t pronounce most of the words.

In fairness, Lloyd’s performance is solid. He provides the incredibly helpful (and unnecessary) plot exposition in the middle of the film. He’s chewing scenery like nobody’s business, but that’s a significant improvement when most of the cast are being out-performed by CGI fish. Lloyd is one of those actors who has starred in so many terrible films, but you kinda forgive him when you get a taste of his raw energy and enthusiasm. Everybody else sleepwalks through the film. Somehow Adam Scott manages to play a bad-ass shotgun-totting jet-ski-riding seismologist without even a hint of irony – or character, for that matter.

Doesn't make a splash...

The movie also takes a fair bit of time to set up the evil swarm of prehistoric piranhas as the bad guys of the piece, with lots of dull and pointless foreshadowing and ominous music. Here’s the thing though, most horror movies give us twenty minutes of boredom before anything happens because they want to convince us to invest in the lead characters (before they die, one by one). Here, the movie should be smart enough to realise that anybody paying to see Piranha 3D probably doesn’t want that sort of shallow characterisation. And yet the movie gives it to us with the same earnestness as it offers us the large volume of female flesh.

When the eponymous hordes do show up, the chaos is completely pointless. It’s poorly handled. It should be either tasteless or serious, but the movie tries walk the line between the two – and it doesn’t succeed. It’s surreal to see a movie having so much fun slaughter college students while asking us to hope that a pair of kids live through it. One gets the sense that the movie wastes what could have been a perfectly subversive look at the creature feature genre.

The actors phone it in...

It’s ironic, but I can’t help feel the movie needed more bite. It was just too bland and safe and self-conscious and self-important. It set itself up as a parody or an exploration of the classic tropes one might associate with the creature feature, an exploitation of an exploitation, but it ultimately manages to suck just as badly as the films it sought to homage – perhaps even worse, because it seems convinced that it’s a better film than it actually is.

3 Responses

  1. I really liked Piranha 3d, and I guess I’ll give my defense of it.

    Piranha 3d is a straight up B-movie that’s neither a spoof/parody nor a realistic/grounded version of a creature feature. It seems to me that in most horror movies, you’re supposed to both enjoy and be terrified by the violence in a kind of distanced way. I’ll compare it to the violence in Kill Bill vol.1: the house of blue leaves is both a lot of fun to watch but also gruesome and gut-wrenching.

    “the only reason to include it in a film like this is to play with it – to have a bit of fun about how gratuitous the showing of flesh is in these sorts of films. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t get the memo. Instead, it flashes the flesh with an almost disturbing perverse earnestness.”

    Why can’t you just use nudity like in the 70’s? Gratuity (both violence and nudity) without apology was the whole point of the movie. Not to be clever but just to have some cheap fun. The idea is not to turn you on like a porno, but just to titillate. What’s wrong with that?

    “Instead, the movie locks you in a dead serious and self-important stare – like that kid in your English class who read Shakespeare with the intensity that suggested he was destined for the Royal Shakespearean Society, despite the fact he couldn’t pronounce most of the words.”

    Yes, the characters treat the situation with dead seriously, but the movie doesn’t. The movie is just too over-the-top to be taken seriously. The movie sets up the partiers as caricatures of sexy, vapid, unaware teens who deserve what they get (at least, according to the rules of horror movies). Eli Roth’s cameo is a great example of this.

    Ultimately, I think it comes down to whether or not it’s possible for a film to be a cheesy horror film without having a Scary Movie-style sense of metacommentary about the genre. Not every “grindhouse” style movie has to be like Deathproof.

    • Don’t get me wrong. I think Grindhouse had its problems. Even ignoring those, I wasn’t really expecting that level of meta-awareness. You mention Scary Movie, but I think I was more expecting something along the lines of Scream, at least based on the self-awareness hinted at in the first two or three minutes (Richard Dreyfuss in a boat being attacked by killer fish).

      I think you’re right, it’s a carbon copy of those sorts of schlock films for the seventies – which, again, you’re correct to say is exactly what it seems to have been going for. However, I think I was expecting more of a sort of nostalgic feel to it, if that makes sense – in that we remember things like these exploitation films as being better than they were (or at least more than they were), and so a successful nostalgia film has to meet those expectations, not the quality of its inspirational material.

      It’s the same sort of problem I had with The Expendables, which claimed to be the spiritual successor of all those bland middle-of-the-road eighties action films, but was just a bland middle-of-the-road eighties action film. If you want to make a tribute, I believe you should aim for the highest quality of the original source material, rather than aspiring to be a generic example of it. If I want to watch a bland eighties action movie, I’ll stick in Cobra or Tango and Cash, rather than The Expendables. If that makes sense.

      Of course, I’ll concede that I watched the film at home, so I didn’t get the experience of seeing it in a cinema. I imagine the atmosphere at, say, the annual Horrorthon would help immensely.

      And I knew I recognised that guy – I initially thought it was Zachary Quinto, but then couldn’t place him.

  2. Oops, I meant Scream. For the longest time, I thought they were the same movie, haha.

    I did see Piranha 3D in the theatre and have no intention of watching it at home. It was definitely one of the very few movies that I’m glad I saw on the big screen.

    I guess I just don’t see how Piranha 3D is mediocre for its genre. To paraphrase James Cameron, it’s probably one of the very best piranhas-eating-naked-people movies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: