There have been a ton of movies about people being stuck out in the middle of the ocean with a broken boat and no way to contact help. Besides the obvious problems of drowning and sharks, the reason these movies terrify us so is because we like to be in control of our situations, and floating randomly along the frenetic ocean currents with no way to orient yourself is every human being’s nightmare. Add to that the upcoming dehydration and starvation, and the fact that stepping off the boat equals entering another world where giant, emotionless beats rule, where you can NEVER stop swimming, no matter how tired you are, and you’ve got yourself an inescapable nightmare. I swear, Hell is not full of fire and brimstone, but is a huge, endless ocean with no life jackets.
Of course, not all helplessly adrift in the ocean movies are the same. So, when I read about Director Chris Helton’s debut film, Dead Water, I knew it could go run the gamut from mind-numbingly boring to an agoraphobic’s nightmare. So, how did it fair?
When a relaxing getaway turns deadly, a former Marine must risk his life once again to save his wife and best friend from a modern day pirate, all the while trying to hold himself together as he faces the ghosts of the war he left behind.
Sure, this is Helton’s first film, but for cast, he was able to get Judd Nelson of The Breakfast Club fame (read our interview with him here), Starship Trooper’s Casper Van Dien (read our interview with him here), Griff Furst (Cold Moon 2017 – read our review here) and Brianne Davis from the Prom Night (2008) reboot. That’s some decent star power for a debut director. As for the crew, he had a script written by Jason Usry (upcoming Monkey Island) and a score composed by John Avarese (Death House 2017), with Grief’s (2019) Brock Bodell and Daniel R. Perry in the editing chairs. A Ghost Story’s (2017 – read our review here) Josh Pickering acted as the DoP.
I wanted to like Dead Water. I really did. I was pumped by the cast, and the storyline seemed pretty solid. I loved that a Marine was directing the film, hoping that that would give ex-military David’s (Griff) character a strong dose of realism. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the film’s sluggish pace. Too much of Dead Water was filled with… well, dead air. Entire conversations could have been cut out and replaced with a line or two of exposition. Instead of building tension, these drawn out, repetitive scenes only had me glancing at the clock to see how much time was left. I felt like I was being hit over the head with unneeded filler. I’m afraid that Bodell and Perry were a bit too lenient with the editing scissors, turning what could have been a nail-biting thriller into a long-winded, uneven Lifetime movie.
The film’s antagonist, Sam (Nelson), didn’t even appear until Dead Water was 40 minutes in – already with a mysterious head wound, no less – and the action didn’t pick up until past the hour mark. I understand that the toxic chemistry between David, his wife, Vivian (Davis), and his late brother’s best friend, Doctor John (Van Dien), was supposed to make me anxious and jumpy, but the unneeded filler in between those tense scenes left time for all of that apprehensiveness to drain away. What’s left felt more like an anchor than a buoy.
That’s not to say that I didn’t like anything about Dead Water. Like I mentioned above, Director Chris Helton is a Marine, so he knows his stuff about what can happen to a man who’s spent time on the battlefield. Between his aural and visual hallucinations, his catch quick temper and his near constant tinnitus, David is a fantastic character with depth and story, and Furst portrayed him admirably. Judd Nelson played the part of the contemporary pirate like he had ice water in his veins. Not once did he emote in any way, which is exactly how this character should be played. As for Van Dien, his portrayal of the spoiled, off-balance doctor was creepily intense. His cutaway looks to the camera and the way he handled that harpoon gun sent chills down my spine.
However, some of the decisions that Vivian and John made seemed totally out of character. Knowing how the film ends, I would have thought David’s wife would have balked at this trip at sea, and I also expected more of a stereotypical rich man’s hissy fit when things didn’t go the doctor’s way. However, Josh Pickering’s cinematography in Dead Water is absolutely stunning. He really has an eye for beauty and knows how to capture shots that look captivating on film. I look forward to seeing more from him in the future.
Get your copy of Dead Water right here!
Although I had high hopes for Dead Water, I was disappointed by the repetitive, drawn out storyline, a problem that weighed down the great acting and gorgeous cinematography. I’m curious to see where Helton goes after this. I think he has the talent for good filmmaking, if only he could remember that less is sometimes much more.