Piranha 3D (2010)

There’s Something in the Water

Just when it seemed safe to venture back into the water, French film-maker Alexandre Aja gives us another reason to fear the deep blue. Doing what he does best, after the success of previous remakes such as the critically praised The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and Mirrors (2008), the reshape of South Korean horror film Into the Mirror, Alexandre Aja treads back on familiar soil, this time around directing a remake of the Joe Dante 1978 B-grade classic, Piranha. Marking the third remake Aja has been involved in, this man clearly knows the territory, being able to identify a film’s strong-points, and reworking them in a way that’s both fresh and thrilling, yet still hold true to the original. With Piranha 3D, Aja has undoubtedly achieved what he had set out to accomplish, creating a version of Piranha that lives up to its goofy title and silly premise, being an enjoyable rollercoaster ride, filled with campy humour, excessive nudity and bucket loads of blood, guts, gore and fun.

The story is set in the small fictional North American town of Lake Victoria, Arizona, which explodes each year when thousands of College Students visit for the Spring Break festivities, an annually held celebration that endorses excessive drinking, promiscuous sex, and just down right bad behaviour. Jake Forester, an aptly cast Steven R. McQueen, The Vampire Diaries (2009), a local admiring attractive tourists as spring break begins, coincidentally reunites with his old crush, Kelly (Jessica Szohr), and meets sleazy pornography film-maker Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell), who owns an adult site called ‘Wild Wild Girls’. In order to impress Kelly, Jake reluctantly agrees to show Derrick and his crew the best spots on the lake for the filming of their latest pornography flick. Against his mother, Sheriff Julie Forester’s (Elisabeth Shue) wishes, and bribing his younger brother and sister, who Jake was told to babysit, he sets off with Derrick and his crew showing them around the lake on the biggest day of the Spring Break activities.

Digital piranha ready for a feed!
Digital piranha ready for a feed!

When an earthquake tremor shatters the lake’s floor, thousands upon thousands of flesh-eating prehistoric piranha, long believed to be extinct, are released from their dormant sleep and into the lake with sizable appetites and razor-sharp teeth. When Sheriff Julie and a group of seismologist divers – Novak (Adam Scott), Sam (Ricardo Chavira), and Paula (Dina Meyer) – go to examine the quake, they discover the primordial species in an enormous cavern filled with large piranha eggs. When two of the divers are killed by the piranha, Julie and Novak, aware of the imminent threat in the water, team up with Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames), and Deputy Taylor Roberts (Jason Spisak) and try to evacuate the lake before it’s too late, but their warnings are ignored by the ignorant College party-goers until the super-aggressive prehistoric species begin to attack. Infesting the waters, the piranha also make their way to Jake and Kelly who are filming with the pornography crew aboard Derrick’s boat, The Barracuda, on a different part of the lake, and they too are put in the face of danger. It is now up to this motley crew of strangers to defend the shores and prevent the largest eat-out in human, and piranha, history.

Everything in this campy little film works, delivering on the promise made by the film-makers, making Piranha 3D one of the rare films that actually gives audiences exactly what the synopses and every shred of marketing suggests: buckets of blood, campy humour and boobs, lots and lots of boobs. This stellar cast are all in ship-shape form, bringing their A-game, clearly revelling in this truly outrageous script and maintaining their straight-faced humour throughout, looking to be having just as much of a blast making this film as Aja, the director, is. Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd, who plays Carl Goodman, a crazed marine biologist working as a pet store owner, is superb, stealing the limelight in his few short scenes. A real career highlight for Jerry O’Connell, Stand By Me (1986), he is exceptional as the despicable over-the-top porn producer Derrick Jones, loosely basing his performance on ‘Girls Gone Wild’ mogul Joe Francis, pouring every possible ounce of oomph and enthusiasm into this role. Other noteworthy performances are Ving Rhames, Dawn of the Dead (2004), as a bad-ass deputy, super stunning Digital Playground Porn Star Riley Steele as ‘Wild Wild Girls’ star Crystal Shepard , film-maker Eli Roth as the half-baked host of a Wet T-Shirt contest and cameo by Richard Dreyfuss who appears dressed like Matt Hooper, from his role in Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece Jaws (1975).

'Hey, where's my stunt double?'
‘Hey, where’s my stunt double?’

Piranha 3D works on multiple levels, but the film’s predominant success comes from its humour, as no matter how suspenseful or tense the story becomes, it never loses sight of its initial tone and lack of seriousness. It may get extraordinarily gruesome at times but the film is never too grim, nor horrific enough, to become disturbing or unbearable for non-horror fanatics to stomach. It is clear from the get-go, in the film’s opening moments, that Aja is basking in utter glee creating this throwback to creature features from his childhood. There are tons of nostalgic references to films from past decades, particularly flicks from the 1980s, and Piranha 3D fits right into the category of features it’s nudging at, while simultaneously paying homage.

Piranha 3D’s enjoyment also comes from the sheer fact that Aja doesn’t seem to care about crossing the line between what’s considered to be good and bad taste, and just seems to revel in the destruction he creates at every turn, piling bodies up by the bucket load; by the time the film is through these prehistoric piranha make Jaws look just about as menacing as Bambi (1942). A grizzly attack during the Spring Break festivities is a major highlight, where various body parts are ripped out and munched up in great detail and party-goers are killed or maimed in some gruesomely graphic and inventive ways. Aja has a go-for-broke style that audiences rarely get a chance to see in modern horror, pushing the limits of what he can show at any given moment. But blood and carnage are only the beginning, Piranha 3D also revels in having bare breasts appear at every possible opportunity, there’s even an entire five-minute underwater ballet-like scene that borders on soft porn. Being unapologetically loaded with gratuitous nudity and graphic comic-style violence, Aja clearly knows his audience, the genre and the films that inspired this picture, creating what truly is one of the best exploitation films of the past decade.

Riley Steele's Hollywood debut!
Riley Steele’s Hollywood debut!

For what’s predominantly marketed as a B-grade film, the visuals and design of Piranha 3D are very much A-grade. Shot on Lake Havasu, Arizona, the locations and imagery are nothing short of stunning; with bright colours and high energy, every frame is picturesque. Always intended to be presented in 3D, Piranha 3D was originally shot in 2D, then converted to 3D in post-production and, unlike several other post converted 3D pictures, the film’s 3D actually enhances the picture and its campy comic tone. Aja and cinematographer John R. Leonetti, Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013), really make the most of this format, placing objects, often giggling breasts or mangled severed body parts, in locations that maximise the depth-of-field, differing from other film-makers who simply use the format as a cash-grab. The practical effects and make-up, led by KNB Effects founder Greg Nicotero, Sin City (2005), are some of the finest in the field, being exceptionally detailed, appearing to be remarkably life-like but also slightly comical. The gore effects however, are a combination of live-action and digital work, with Piranha 3D being one of the films that cleverly combines the use of make-up and prosthetics with computer graphics seamlessly. The Piranha themselves, while looking primordial, have an almost cartoonish design, and are mostly computer generated, which might turn certain viewers off, as the computer effects are no-where near as refined or first rate as the physical on-set stuff.

Granted you are the audience who enjoys relentless gore and gratuitous amounts of nudity, Piranha 3D delivers on all counts. While the film certainly won’t win any Oscars, and film-makers were well aware of this, releasing a spoof advertisement campaign around the time of its release jokily suggesting that the film should be considered for the Academy Awards, it succeeds in creating a delightfully gory throwback to splatter creature pictures from the 70s’ and 80s’. Never wearing out its welcome, with a running time just under 90 minutes, the film exists solely to be gleefully destructive, and as long as you realize what you’ve signed up for before diving in, you will surely not be disappointed!

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by S-Littner

Piranha 3D is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia