By: Garrett Collins
Starring: James Duval, Candace Kita, Chanel Ryan, Britt Griffith, Tawny Amber Young, Alexis Iacono, Devanny Pinn, and Brandon Slagle.
Sometimes the advertising behind a movie perfectly outlines the film’s intent. Think back to when the viral campaign to The Dark Knight started extricating itself. With each passing digital card the Joker had people find, it worked at getting them more and more excited for the film to come out, while at the same time setting us up for what Heath Ledger was going to unleash on us. Looking at the posters for Dead Sea, you’d think you were going to the second coming of Piranha 3D. Which after viewing the film, couldn’t be further from the truth. Now, the advertising department isn’t stupid. They know in an already chopped up home video market that is inundated with Sci-Fi original movies like Sharknado and Sharktopus, they have to stand out. However, if you do decide to pick up Dead Sea, keep in mind that this is not a film about dozens of teenagers that get eaten up by an underwater entity. In the end, this cross-up in advertising proves to be both the advantage and detriment to Dead Sea’s overall quality.
Like most slow-burn thrillers, the less you know about what goes on during Dead Sea’s storyline the better. I won’t go on too much about the plot, just to say that it has intersecting stories, all of which meet in what amounts to a pretty emotional climax. What, you weren’t expecting that? That’s the power behind writer/director/actor Brandon Slagle’s script. Yes it involves creatures of the deep. But there’s a lot more to it than that. And even though there are a few plot holes and convenient contrivances along the way (why, oh why would you hide on the underside of a boat if there is something roaming around IN the water?), its tightness is its strength. The film revolves itself around the serpent of the story, not the other way around.
Don’t get me wrong: there are still things going on in this horror film that happen in most other ones. You have a jammin’ boat party (which is probably what the studio was basing its poster around), you have people destined to die in bloody ways, and you have a Middle East insurgence gun battle. What?! You read that right. Slagle, obviously having a love for the action genre as well (a future scene involving a gun and a POV First Person Shooter style also proves this), includes a scene immediately following the emotional opening portion of Dead Sea that will either intrigue or outrage horror fans. I myself enjoyed it as, again, I respect that Slagle is constantly trying to keep us as an audience on our feet with his direction. As for the scene itself, it is nicely staged and shows that Slagle definitely has a future in directing action films if he so chooses.
The way characters are revealed is extremely scattered, and not everyone has a grand entrance. For example, Auriel (Pinn) is introduced as an outsider and introverted part of the aforementioned party taking place on a boat. It can’t be overly stated how daring of a direction this was to take for Pinn’s character. You don’t look at Pinn as an ‘outsider,’ and seeing her play awkward in her first scene was a nice hint of how go for broke Slagle’s script is. As parties abound and dead fish wash ashore, we know the shadow of death looms over every character that we come into onscreen contact with. This would make Auriel the most obvious one to die, right?
While there are times that swerves happen for the simple reason that they have to, what Slagle tried to do with Dead Sea is completely commendable. He has been roaming around horror genre circles for a while now. This is his fourth solo effort as a director, and I would say that Dead Sea is definitely a surefire sign that with the right budget and tools, he could be a force to be reckoned with. He seems to enjoy toying with audiences on what exactly is in the water causing the terror. Is it a shark? A school of piranha? The answer you will have to see for yourself. Sure there are times when he gets a little too stylish for his own good (he can’t resist the shooting and being included in the four man walk in slow motion Reservoir Dogs shot), and not all the acting is spot on. But Dead Sea is full of enough intrigue and thrills to accommodate a curl up with your girlfriend by the TV home viewing.