It first must be noted that before those sitting high and mighty start sniffing their nose up at this movie, they cannot argue against this: At the very least "Piranha" knows its audience and it plays to it brilliantly. It is a remake about man eating Piranhas set loose on lithe, beautiful bodies during Spring Break. What did you expect? High art, this most certainly is not. What it is however, is the most out and out, rollicking good time you may have at the movies this year. While hardly the first 3D exploitation film, it is certainly the most high profile in recent years, following the dreadful "My Bloody Valentine 3D" released early last year. While that film seemed to have aspirations to knowingly playing to generic and cliche horror conventions, it had a horrible cast, daft set pieces, not an ounce of tension and horrid use of its 3D. "Piranha" on the other hand, not only plays hilariously with its tongue lodged firmly in its cheek, but with actual talent in front and behind the camera. Those who can withstand the copious amounts of blood and ridiculously gratuitous nudity will find a live action cartoon in front of them. Do not take this film for one second seriously; it's cast and director certainly don't. What they do take seriously is entertaining their demographic, something the film does in spades.
It's Spring Break on Lake Victoria, Arizona. Hundreds of students cut loose and go wild here every year. However this is the time that an underground earthquake hits, releasing a large swarm of prehistoric Piranhas from their underground lake. Falling prey first, to a very unfortunate Richard Dreyfuss (in the first of many nods to "Jaws") they then descend on the nubile, party goers on the lake. It's up to a small group of strangers to bond together to escape the snappy jaws of the very vicious fish. One of the small successes of the film is in it's casting. Already mentioned was the very welcome cameo of Dreyfuss, yet there are plenty of other surprises in store. Just seeing Christopher Lloyd back on screen again spouting some fantastic OTT dialogue is enjoyable in its own right. Adding to the 'knowing factor' is including talented comedy actors Adam Scott and one third of 'Human Giant' Paul Scheer. In fact its cast has to be one of the oddest in a while; many average cinemagoers won't understand the simple virtues of seeing seasoned veterans Elizabeth Shue (in her first lead in quite a while), Ving Rhames and the aforementioned Lloyd and Dreyfuss back on screen. Jerry O'Connell hasn't lately been in anything other than what is found in DVD bargain bins, Kelly Brook is hardly a 'serious' actress by anyones standards and the rest of the supporting players are filled out by porn stars. All of this adds to the fun on display and shows Director Aja's intentions from the off. To know these actors is to know perfectly what each character will fulfill. It is shameless in its intentions. Somewhat surprisingly, it's distributers Dimension and The Weinstein Company must have had very little faith in the film. Declining to show the film to critics before the films official release usually screams out 'stinker'. But then a curious thing happened. When the film was released, the film actually received good reviews. Happy that critics seemed to be in on the joke, they immediately greenlit a sequel. This has to be the first time a sequel has been put into development as a result of glowing reviews. The film did not open very successfully in its opening weekend. Probably down to the fact that audiences were not to be aware of the intentionally camp and cheesy tone of the film from its many promotional spots, it is regrettable. It seems that everyone involved got the tone the film was aiming for, apart from those promoting it.
Now as you probably can tell, the film is not plot or character based. It has only two things on its mind: Sex and Violence. And the film offers heavy abundance of both. In fact it spends its first half ogling acres of naked flesh, while then spending the second gleefully and very violently ripping it apart. At its center piece is an admittedly very well choreographed and sustained massacre sequence, as all the Spring breakers run (or is that swim?) afoul of all the vicious underwater carnivores. Aja shoots what resembles "Saving Private Ryan" as a stunningly gory and very literal 'bloodbath'. The lake runs red as decapitations, scalpings and lacerations run rampant. The sheer awesomery of the violence on display is both shocking and hilarious. Credit must go to the great make up effects supplied by KNB, for kitting out an entire lakes worth of amputees and bite victims.
Aja has got a lot of praise over the years. Credited with starting the Extreme French Horror genre in "Haute Tension" he then moved to America to remake a string of forgettable and very po-faced horror flicks. While "Haute Tension" was not the horror masterpiece that many proclaimed it to be, it did show that the Director knew how to handle tension and violence in a picture. He can frame a shot well and knows how to play to demands for the genre in a fresh enough way. I thought his talent was to be dimmed in America, but it seems he has found his feet here. He builds proceedings well enough and handles his cast well. Most impressivily, he seems to be having fun with the material. 3-D is very well handled throughout. The film is after all, an all out and unashamed exploitation picture and Aja relishes in throwing as many bodily functions and objects towards his audience as he can think of. The effect works well in adding to the scream-jump-laugh factor. The creatures themselves are hardly menacing in their CG appearance, but they do the trick and work well on screen. The films revels in its absurdism and gleefully celebrates its debauchery. It is gratuitous in every sense of the word, it has zero brains or originality and it panders to the lowest of the low in its audience demographic, but it is competently made, well acted and most importantly of all, great fun. Audiences do get it wrong sometimes it seems. See it on the big screen with mates and laugh along to the glorious violence and mayhem on display.
The definition of a guilty pleasure; this offers mindless, nasty violence and pointless and gratuitous nudity, but I chuckled and laughed throughout. Everyone delivers the ridiculous material with a wink and events are well sustained. The sequel cannot come soon enough. Let's hope they decide against the flying piranhas of James Cameron's original 1981 sequel.