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John’s Horror Corner: Dead in the Water (2018), a serviceable SyFy original creature feature at sea.

January 21, 2021

MY CALL: Although far from great, this was a pleasantly surprising SyFy original TV movie. The acting and creature effects were more than sufficient to entertain me through this otherwise very familiar story. MORE MOVIES LIKE Dead in the Water: Well, first off, Sea Fever (2019) did it better. Looking for much better horror at sea? Try Uninvited (1988), Deep Rising (1998), Virus (1999), Ghost Ship (2002) or Harbinger Down (2015) for above water horrors; Underwater (2020), The Rift (1990), Deepstar Six (1989), Leviathan (1989) and, although all Sci-fi and no horror, I’d still strongly recommend The Abyss (1989) for submerged horrors; and Cold Skin (2017) or The Bay (2012) for horror with a view of the water. I’d completely skip Death Ship (1980) and Blood Vessel (2019), although there are fans out there who praise their atmosphere (and I’m not one of them).

Right away we’re reminded of the SyFy original-ness of this movie by the shots of CGI ocean, CGI ships and CGI ship propellers. There’s a lot of CGI, and it’s not good quality. Get used to it.

The all-female crew of a ship 600 miles from shore rescues a stranger (Brandon Auret; District 9, Elysium, Chappie) from the icy waters only to have him turn on them in a violent paranoid episode. After killing him, examination reveals strange markings on his body indicating some sort of disease.

THE CREW: Dana (Nikohl Boosheri; Altered Carbon), Kat (Nicole Fortuin), Gwen (Bianca Simone Mannie; The Watch), Rusty (Skye Russell), Erika (Tanya van Graan; Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, Raised by Wolves, Starship Troopers 3, Death Race 2-3, Critters Attack!), Sparks (Christia Visser; Planet of the Sharks), Michelle (Amy Louise Wilson; Troy: Fall of a City)

Meeting the characters is nothing special, the writing is pretty basic. But the acting isn’t so bad. The real enemy of this movie is the initially sluggish pacing. But once we hit the autopsy scene… that’s the turning point of the movie (from boring to fun). It may not have come close to capturing the gravity of such iconic scenes from Alien (1979) or The Thing (1982). But the autopsy was gross, uncomfortable, and cultivated good tension building up to a somewhat predictable (but still satisfying) reveal: the creature inside the stranger!

From there we follow familiar beats from Sea Fever (2019) via The Thing (1982)… the distrust among possible infected crew members, the infection is spreading, learning more about the nature of the creature, and realizing this cannot reach the mainland! The squid-ish life leech reminds me of the early stages of the alien in Life (2017) in terms of movement, resilience and behavior.

The special effects were decent enough. The infected individuals were gross with writhing worms in the face and the rubber monster and its long tentacles were well-done for a TV movie.

Director Sheldon Wilson (Stickman, Screamers: The Hunting, The Hollow) is no stranger to direct-to-DVD filmmaking, and I think he did a good job here for the budget and script he was dealt. I was really pleasantly surprised by this SyFy original movie. Way more entertaining than expected and the monster was kinda’ cool.

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