BLACK WATER (Sony) D: Andrew Traucki, David Nerlich, w/ Diana Glenn, Maeve Dermody. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NNN
GABRIEL (Sony) D: Shane Abbess, w/ Andy Whitfield, Dwaine Stevenson. Rating: NN; DVD package: NNN
Separately, either of these Australian genre flicks is a decent time-waster. Together, they’re a highly amusing double bill and an outstanding lesson in radically different approaches to low-budget filmmaking.
Black Water, working with $1 million, goes for scaled-down realism: three people up a tree with a large crocodile lurking below. No CGI. Their croc is a real one, composited in. The work is seamless and effective.
Directors Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich make their movie work very well with a restless camera, a tense score and a story focused entirely on the problem at hand. The mangrove swamp setting and the novelty of a movie about people up a tree help, too.
Gabriel, working with $200,000 cash and all deferred salaries, goes for big scale and total stylization: Sammael, the demon, has destroyed the city’s balance of good and evil and turned everyone into junkie whores. Redemption arrives in the form of the archangel Gabriel, with big guns and a long black coat. Think Constantine meets The Matrix.
First-time director Shane Abbess goes for a big CG opening, lots of close-ups, shadows and flashy editing designed to conceal the flaws. Sometimes it works.
Tragically, though, Abbess has clichés on the brain. Every shot and every line gets the big-moment, designed-for-the-trailer treatment, and the story and dialogue are overwrought gibberish. No matter – the thing works on its own terms: it’s mostly competent, has a definite style, looks bigger than it is and moves along quickly. Think of the looniness as a bonus.
Abbess’s enthusiasm and pride come through in the hugely detailed making-of doc. Traucki and Nerlich offer a more modest making-of and commentary. Both offer a good look at the perils of low-budget moviemaking.
Extras Black Water: making-of doc, deleted scenes. Widescreen. English, French audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles. Gabriel: three-part making-of doc. Widescreen. English, French audio and subtitles.