Dead Calm | Varied Celluloid

Dead Calm

Posted by Josh Samford On July - 30 - 2008
Review Originally Written by Belle Alabaster


Plot Outline: After their young son is killed in a tragic car accident Sailor John Ingram (Sam Neill) and his wife Rae (Nicole Kidman) go on a cruise together in their yacht, the Saracen, in an attempt to deal with their grief. One day, adrift in the middle of the dead calm sea, their isolation is interrupted when they spot a schooner in the distance and a distressed man, Hughie (Billy Zane), rowing furiously away from it on a dingy. He tells them he’s abandoning his sinking ship after everyone else on board died of food poisoning ten days earlier. The husband, suspicious of the young man’s story, decides to investigae. He takes Hughie’s dingy and rows out to the sinking vessel, leaving his wife alone with the clearly unstable young man. Hughie, figuring out that his cover is blown, wrestles control of the Saracen out of Rae’s hands, kidnapping her and leaving John stranded on the sinking ship with a whole bunch of rotting corpses. Stupidity ensues.


  

The Review
The most annoying thing about this Dead Calm is that it had the potential to be a really great movie. Everything was there to build a taunt psychological thriller: a great set up, complex characters, one of the most isolated settings you could find, good actors and director. But, somehow, ten minutes in everything turns to mush. I have a feeling the producers started to fuck around with the storyline, hoping to cash in on the psycho stranger movies that were popular at the time, and saying to themselves “hey guys, don’t worry if the story makes no sense, as long as we show tits and have an explosion at the end people will be queing up to see it!”. Dead Calm is certainly a product of it’s time. It presumes we’re stupid and that we have to have everything explained to us or we won’t understand what is going on. The atmosphere, which could have been creepy, has all the suspense stripped away by the blatant obviousness of the script. We’re not not allowed to decide for ourselves just how mentally unstable Hughie is, we’re continuously beat over the head with “look! he’s crazy! look how crazy he’s acting now! what a nut!”. We’re not allowed to imagine the horrific nature of Hughie’s crimes by seeing quick glimpses or shadows of his victims. Instead they show a naked female corpse floating by in full graphic detail. It takes away the mystery and lessens the impact of the movie.

My main problem with the movie is that all the events occur because of stupid choices the characters make. A mentally unstable man comes on board his boat and the first thing the experienced sailor does is to leave him alone with his wife while he rows out to the sinking vessel. It never occurs to him to radio for help or to just move his own boat closer to the sinking one so it will be easier to get on board. He tells his wife to load their gun and keep it with her, which, of course, she doesn’t do because she’s an idiot. Rae has quite a few chances to push Hughie overboard, but she never does. She drugs Hughie and then, instead of staying out of his way until the drugs kick in, she goes back into the room and almost gets strangled by him. She actually holds the gun to his throat but doesn’t shoot him. The stupidity just goes on and on.

The Conclusion
Okay, let’s get to the good points of the movie. Suprisingly, it does have some. The acting is good, especially considering what the actors had to work with. This was Nicole Kidman’s first major US movie and I think that her work in this shows that she would still be recognised as a great actress today even if she hadn’t become Mrs Tom Cruise a little over a year later. Billy Zane looks hot (he has magnificent bone structure) and enjoys playing the part of the crazy guy. The direction is good and what little suspense the movie does manage to capture is because of this. The location is absolutely beautiful. But good acting and pretty scenery doesn’t make up for a preposterous script. The only thing scary about Dead Calm is the fact that it was made fourteen years ago and Nicole Kidman doesn’t appear to have aged since then.


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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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