French-born director Alexandre Aja has shown himself to be a skilled
schlockmeister in his four American films. (I’m counting his last French
film, High Tension, which got wide release in the States and opened
the door for him to move to the US.)
has used his trick bag on several horror staples – the mysterious mad
slasher (High Tension), the mutant monsters
(the remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes) and the haunted
house (Mirrors, which was actually about a haunted department
yet none of Aja’s movies really are as good as the films that inspired him – they
are simply much gorier.
with Piranha, Aja works out his need to do a cheesy remake of
Jaws. In fact, he even saddles up the last surviving lead of that film
– Richard Dreyfuss – to play what is essentially the Susan Backlinie role.
(Jaws fanatics will know what that means, but for the rest of you out
there, Backlinie played the random first victim who was violently dispatched
before the start of the proper story.)
Although, actually, Piranha is not so much a revamp of the Jaws
storyline as a rip-off of all the dozens of rip-offs that followed in
Jaws’ wake, including Orca, Grizzly and of course most
specifically it is a loose remake of a 1978 potboiler called Piranha.
original Piranha, cheesy as it may be, was actually the work of some
very talented filmmakers, director Joe Dante went on to make respected films
like Gremlins, Innerspace and Small Soldiers. And,
shockingly, the screenplay was by future indie film legend John Sayles
(Lone Star, Eight Men Out). Even more shockingly, the original film’s
1981 sequel was directed by James Cameron (Titanic,
Avatar). Who knew?
new Piranha does not take itself at all seriously – and it is kind of
likable for its oppressive goofiness. It is sort of like what Jaws
would look like if it were filmed by the crew of Girls Gone Wild
while on a drunken homicidal bender.
as has been so obvious with Aja’s past films is even more apparent here.
The guy just does not get what was the single most important aspect of
making Jaws scary. The monster you see is not nearly as horrifying
as the monster you do not see.
While thousands of marauding prehistoric piranhas let loose in a spring
break lake is an inherently frightening idea, the mayhem and ripping flesh
is so oppressive as to take things over the top. Aja has absolutely no
restraint as a director and it makes his films cartoonish. The violence and
sex is dolloped on at such a ridiculous level that it goes way beyond scary
into outright parody territory.
While I recognize that was at least partially intended, it just leaves
Piranha in a weird netherland – it is too absurdly gory to be funny for
most people and yet too goofy to be legitimately scary.
example, a head floating into a hole in a boat in Jaws is
frightening. Two mutant prehistoric piranhas fighting over a man’s severed
penis – well that’s just stupid and not just a little sick. As is a scene
where two topless coeds are mistakenly sliced in half by a flying wire. Or
the part where a girl’s hair gets caught in a boat propeller.
There is some fine talent here in this potboiler – Elizabeth Shue
(Leaving Las Vegas) as the town sheriff, Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction)
as her deputy, Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) as the
local fish expert, Adam Scott (Parks & Recreation) as a scientist and
Jerry O’Connell (Stand By Me) as a cheesy Girls Gone Wild-esque
wish I could say that I enjoyed the movie more than I do. Through the
several years of his career I have always respected Aja’s bad-ass b-movie
skills and devil-may-care moxie. However, somebody has to eventually
explain to him the importance of occasional subtlety. Until he tones his
movies down just a bit, it seems that I will never be able to get his
work. Some people can find this kind of over-the-top mayhem funny, but I
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: January 15, 2011.