(2010) director Alexandre Aja
viewed: 08/22/10 at the AMC Loews Metreon 16, SF, CA
T & A and blood and gore, and in 3D as well.
Alexandre Aja’s remake of the Roger Corman/Joe Dante/John Sayles original Piranha (1978) is most everything it promises to be, and unlike so many re-makes of horror films of late (A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), My Bloody Valentine (2009)), it refreshes the content rather than just regurgitates it. In fact, Aja makes for a funhouse ride of sex, gore, torsos, and extremities, with a dose of humor almost as large as the dose of blood (in gallons).
I’d actually been yearning to see the original, directed by Joe Dante, as part of a trope of early Roger Corman-produced films by name directors of the 1970’s and 1980’s. And I had also desired to see Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981), which happened to be James Cameron’s first feature film. Long, convoluted story short, watching the originals will have to follow watching the remake.
The premise is that it’s spring break on “Lake Victoria” (Lake Havasu was the location of the filming) and that lots of young adults are going to party, drink, and get out and out wild for the holiday. But just before that, a seismic event occurs, which unleashes a horde of prehistoric piranha that have been trapped in a “lake under the lake” for a millennium. While trapped down there, they cannibalized to eat and they are pretty much super-piranha. It’s a formula made for lurid enjoyment, watching the hard-bodied youth become stripped of their flesh or downright skeletonized. I mean, this is what you pay your money for.
Richard Dreyfuss shows up in a nod to the original “fish terrorizing a community” film, Jaws (1975), for which the original Piranha was a knock-off/parody. We also get the game Elisabeth Shue, last seen in Hamlet 2 (2008) and now playing in a fun B-movie, as the town’s sheriff. Her eldest son is supposed to be babysitting his younger siblings but takes a job with Jerry O’Connell, playing a character based roughly on Girls Gone Wild-producer Joe Francis, scouting sites for the filming of nudity and debauchery. Actually, I thought O’Connell was pretty hilarious. Like Shue, the whole cast is pretty game; everyone is here for the bloodbath, jokey gorings, severed body parts, and lusty nudes.
The 3-D seemed an apt upgrade here, an opportunity to thrust teeth and prongs and various pieces of flesh at the audience. But really, it didn’t make for any memorable additions to the process. A further argument against this whole push in current film-making. And the digitally animated fish, well, they’re typical digital animation effects, not particularly frightening or realistic.
I give Aja credit though. Aja (High Tension (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Mirrors (2008)) embraces this film with a gusto and verve that makes it worth the effort. From the underwater swimming nude scene to the disemboweling and general chopping up of the titillating and erotic features of hundreds of gyrating bodies, the film just is what it sets out to be, a sexualized gore-fest, which fixates on the body. There’s not a lot of subtext to the naturally occurring fish. But the hot, partying humans, their eroticism and mortality are on high display.