Thursday 22 October 2020


Directed by: Chris Helton. Starring: Casper Van Dien, Griff Furst, Brianne Davis, Judd Nelson. Thriller, US 2019, 86mins, Cert 15.

“You ready for a weekend that’s gonna change your life?”

DEAD WATER meekly follows in the wake of far more effective claustrophobic sea thrillers such as Phillip Noyce’s 1989 DEAD CALM and Rob Grant’s 2019 HARPOON. It sinks itself with a script that treads (dead) water for two-thirds of its modest running time before introducing Judd (THE BREAKFAST CLUB) Nelson’s black bearded pirate (no, really), who appears to have randomly drifted in from a completely different and far more interesting film.

In a clear attempt to kick against type-casting, STARSHIP TROOPERS Casper Van Dien is implausibly cast as a rich orthopaedic surgeon named Dr John Livingstone (I presume). Whilst his decorated Marine buddy David ‘Coop’ Cooper (Griff Furst) was on active duty in Afghanistan, the bone doctor Livingstone was ‘taking care’ of David’s TV reporter wife Viviane (Brianne Davis). Returning home with full-on raging PTSD, buddy John suggests the couple come along for a few days away on the open water cruising with him on his new luxury 75ft yacht the ‘Bella Would’ (don’t ask).

Once onboard, Dr Livingstone’s rehabilitation strategy consists largely of plying Coop with beer, poker and a supremely inadvisable game of truth or dare. When that fails, he employs an unorthodox therapeutic technique of shoving a harpoon gun in his mate’s face and demanding he tells him how many people he killed in combat! As Coop understandably storms off Van Dien strains every sinew of his chiselled jaw to deliver this cod-psychology diagnosis with a semi-straight face: “You know you act like a calm ocean but you’re turbulent underneath!”

When Coop first boards the yacht, he quips: “It’s not going to be a ‘three hour tour’, is it?” Well the first hour almost feels like three, with ponderous rather than portentous pacing floundering to the point where I would have welcomed the introduction of a poorly rendered 3-headed CGI shark to chow down on this plodding love-triangle.

However, just as I was about to send up a boredom distress flare, along comes partial salvation in the shape of a fishing vessel named ‘Usual Suspects’ (no, really) and Judd Nelson as Sam, a black bearded pirate with a freshly-inflicted scar above his eye (sadly a poor substitute for an eye-patch).

The unwritten commandment thou shall not spoil prevents me from navigating you much further through the remaining turbulent waters of salty and frankly ludicrously laughable plot twists and weakly staged (belated) violence. However, I honestly wished the film had introduced Judd Nelson’s pirate a whole lot sooner, or better yet, jumped ship completely over to the ‘Usual Suspects’ vessel.

But, the location photography shot in the U.S Virgin Islands provided an agreeable distraction when viewed on a grimly wet and windy Sunday morning. To give Casper Van Dien his due, although he would have been better served playing the ex-marine role, Casper acquits himself competently enough given the blandness of the writing and the unsubtle direction which undermines any implied ambiguity as to his character’s motivations. Apart from his PTSD, all I learnt about his buddy Coop was that he prefers pistachio ice-cream to actual food, and Brianne Davis’ ‘Viviane’ is a better shot with a firearm than Dr Livingstone is with a harpoon gun.

Ultimately, DEAD WATER is dead in the water long before Yo Ho Ho! pirate Nelson climbs aboard. There’s just about enough story here to fill up the running length of an episode of ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, but the preceding 50+ minutes serve as unnecessary ballast that should have been heaved overboard long before this ship set sail.      

(P.S. Note for all scriptwriters, if you’re going to reference arguably the finest sea-faring suspense film of all-time, please have the courtesy to at least get one of its main protagonist’s character’s names correct: it’s ‘Quint’ not ‘Quintin’.)

Paul Worts

**(Out of 5*)

This review was originally published by FrightFest.

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