Movie Review – Dead Sea

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Movie Review – Dead Sea
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Dead Sea
Drama, Horror, Science Fiction
Dead Sea Films, Micro Bay Features, Origin Releasing
April 15th, 2014
Release length: 1:28:00
Dead Sea, also known as Black Lagoon, is a film by its own production group named Dead Sea Films, as well as the slowly growing underground company Micro Bay Features. The film claims to feature a cast largely from Black Dahlia, though deceptive marketing hides that it is their 2012 film The Black Dahlia Haunting, and not the big-budget Hollywood flick. Written and Directed by Brandon Slagel, known for his work in that very movie, as well as The Dark Avengers and Subject 87, this creature feature was picked up for distribution through Origin Releasing. While touting a major star in the cast and hitting shelves without a rating (not unrated), does this flick stand as a solid entry or the genre, or does it fail to deliver on every level possible?

Every thirty years in some small unnamed town, a creature rises in it’s small salt lake to feast. It has been thirty years since the feeding frenzy and Victoria Amissus (Alexis Iacono), a marine biologist, is sent back home to discover why there are dead fish popping up all around the shorelines. She is chosen due to her ties to the community, having grown up there when younger and leaving in order to pursue her career. When she returns, her hopes of not being recognized are immediately dashed as members of her family and general residents she once left behind realize she is back to investigate what they all know is going on, especially her brother and a select few members of the police department who are preparing to make an offering to the creature so that it will go away until the next time it returns to eat.

But you wouldn’t know this from the unnecessary back story that makes up much of the start. Aside the introduction of a man slitting his hands and casting himself into the lake, leaving behind a wife and son. This flashback is presented in a very grainy, almost pixelated manner that is better left to the live action scenes on an early PC or Sega CD title like Sewer Rat. This seems to be the style used throughout the film to represent the past, or at least what seem to be. Some provide very little insight as to what is going on such as a woman laying in bed high and half naked while a man is gazing at the lake through the window.

And then there’s the brotherhood between Lt. Williams (David Dossett) and Castor Pollux (Britt Griffith, Ghost Hunters). This is established through a random chapter set in the Middle East, but looks more like it was all shot in a paintball range using non-eastern actors. This goes on for a while, providing little information other than possibly James Duvall (Said, Independence Day) mentioning a serpent of evil devouring the men they are looking. I’m still unsure if this is his first or second appearance in the film, as he also appears to be the man who sacrifices himself at the start of the movie. In any event, that bit of information isn’t really acknowledged again outside of the conversation between Victoria and Auriel (Devanny Pinn), a survivor of the monster’s attack who also snapped photos of it, discussing the interconnecting tunnels linked to the lake itself.

Other than that, the other main driving point to the film ends up being Victoria’s father trying desperately to repair the relationship between him and his daughter. This eventually leads to him urging her to leave right away, the explanation why, and some background on the bloodlines tied to the thirty year sacrifice which explains the opening scene a little better if you went in without know about this plot point. For the most part, these scenes do help build the two characters and explain why pretty much everyone in the town absolutely hates her, though the aforementioned scenes of the woman who was high and the man looking out the window did cause some confusion for me as to if that also may have played some kind of role.

Dead Sea

But when you break everything down, there are still many problems to the film it can actually hurt your brain as you try to find reasoning that doesn’t exist as to why certain things are the way they are. The whole idea is that a sacrifice is to be made, but even after the first sacrifice the thing doesn’t go away. This plot hole is later revealed in one of the father-daughter moments, explaining it apparently has to be a certain person and that Victoria is it, but the ending throws another monkey wrench into that logic that alters those rules once more. But the worst is when Victoria and Auriel try to escape and apparently can’t due to a one-and-a-half, maybe two foot tall road block that is they could still drive over. Sure it’d wreck up the bottom of the car, but not enough that it would be entirely inoperable, presenting the same logic used to keep the kids inside the bus from riding it on the rims to safety in jeepers Creepers 2. Or, better yet, step over it and run since the barricade is set up at the town’s limits and most of the officers are back inside sweeping the roads for anyone out past the metaphoric thirty year curfew they institute to make finding the person(s) for the sacrifice easier. The two do break away after this and Auriel is hunted by Castor, showing that escape for them, or at least her since Victoria runs back into town, is entirely possible. Also that some of the two who served in the Middle East are easily the worst shots in movie history.

Other than screaming at the screen for these two to just leave the town and never look back, the other question of why the town residents themselves don’t just do the same arises. It’s no secret in this town that every thirty years the creature comes back to feast. Other than a few people who seem to have a moral obligation or bloodline ties to the sacrifice that keeps the creature at bay, most of the residents have no reason at all to stay. The small town was clearly once prosperous as a farming community, but now remains dead and lifeless. But the film only continues to acknowledge that nobody leaves the town, and if they do they always come back. The reasoning is simply established that getting out is “just not that easy.” Why, however, is never addressed, nor is the concept of everyone saving up here and there to get out over the course of the thirty years to prevent becoming the sacrifice, or even just getting a hotel room a few towns over for a couple of nights until things blow over or the creature goes through the tunnels to find another place to dine in. Everyone just accepts it as a way of life for the world, which makes you care even less for the people who choose to stay here and risk their own lives.

There’s also the lack of character identification to deal with. The start of the film with the first sacrifice seems to be done purposely in order to flesh out it’s significance to the story and its characters. But, for the most part, character names are said maybe once if at all. By the end you will just be referring to the main characters as Victoria, her father, her brother, and that guy from Ghost Hunters. The first two end up having some kind of depth compared to the rest of the transparent people in the town who seem to largely just exist to eat up time or present upward shots of sexy women in their bikinis for the sake of the male demographic (and certain women) to enjoy.

One final thing about the story is that it barely touches on the lore it’s based on. In fact, this bit of information is only available in the featurette included on the DVD. Brandon Slagle talks about the film’s inspiration, which is a creature known as the “Ogopogo” of Lake Okanagan in British Columbia, Canada. The difference is this monster isn’t a serpent, but rather more like a giant leech. Of course the visuals of this creature are incredibly limited to photos taken during the party boat attack, a shot of a long tail-like body, and a few shots of it attacking towards the end that seem to give it a shark-like snout without nostrils. You actually get to see more of the creature in the DVD artwork and certain promotional posters than you do in the film itself.

Dead Sea

The lack of a creature on screen could very well be explained away by looking at the limited screen time the finned monster in Jaws had. Even Brandon mentions this film in the featurette, though in what manner is hard to make out due to the score often overlapping his voice. But this ends up more like an excuse for this film than actual reasoning considering the few limited shots you see, and the fact that the shark in Jaws was a robot that constantly kept breaking, greatly restricting how much the crew was able to use it. Even if that were the case, the tension and fear of that film is in no way felt here. Instead you clearly make out what was clearly meant to be a Drama between Victoria and her father that somehow went off the rails and included a gigantic leech that requires a sacrifice.

While the creature itself is rarely showed, all but one scene utilize practical effects. The only times you really see computer graphics are with gun fire and the reveal of the serpent-like tail of the beast. Given the reported budget of about one hundred thousand dollars, it’s fair to say that they did a good job with most of the visuals. However there are times where the film treads into Birdemic territory. The roar of the monster sounds hollow and mechanical, like a motion activated Halloween decoration from the nineties. In the middle of the film where Victoria and Auriel both hear the creature, that sound changes to what is more akin to a grisly mountain man passing a stone in the nearby woods. The sounds of Victoria knocking on doors and rattling chain fences for help during the chase scene at the end are also as mechanical sounding and incredibly out of place, as if stolen from an early Nintendo Entertainment System title instead of going out with even a smart phone and recording the effects themselves.

The last, and easily the most damning issue with Dead Sea to be tackled is that it never shuts up. The score seems to always be present, though sometimes in a subtle manner that ends up more like white noise you’ll often quit paying attention to until something makes you suddenly realize it’s still going. Even if it does quiet down there’s always a sound effect such as a bird chirping to fill the air or one of the few actual songs that would make up its soundtrack. Sadly, this makes up a very small portion of the overall experience. When not trying to be ominous or tense, the varied instrumentals set up either a grand high seas adventure or fantastical realm unsure if it wants to be a b-list Pirates of the Carribean knock-off or a b-grade Lord of the Rings knock-off, or a day time soap opera screaming for an Emmy during the character development scenes between Victoria and her father. Those are honestly some of the best performances here, even shedding tears from the cast that seem legitimate and not like Visine thrown in during a quick cut. Unfortunately they are also the most muffled thanks to the background score that suddenly is pulled to the forefront, shoving its sappy General Hospital vibe against a scenario that screams Dark Shadows, just with a giant leech lake monster instead of a vampire.

Dead Sea

So, with all that said, how does Dead Sea stack up? Well, it’s far from that memorable an experience, but overall there is a decent Drama to be found under the bland, unorganized writing and editing, as well as the score that just never stops. Even the DVD title screen has it playing, preparing you for the non-stop audio assault you’ll be stuck listening to for the next eighty seven minutes. If you were to turn that bit into a drinking game, such as “take a drink when the score gets too loud or out of place,” you’ll end up drunk before the double shot at the very end when the score is overlapped by a song from it’s soundtrack. But if you can tackle it sober, shut off your brain, and approach this stereo digital (if shot in high definition it definitely doesn’t show) feature length film more as a cheesy soap then you’ll be able to appreciate it a little more than what it’s sold to be.

Overall Score: 5/10
Physical review copy of this release provided by personal funds.