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Spring break comes to the small town of Victoria, Arizona, and with it comes waves of drunken, half naked co-eds, and their sinful behavior. The local residents do their best to deal with the influx every year, and when the partying is over everything goes back to normal. But not this year. This year, another group of creatures is crashing the party – prehistoric piranha. Sealed beneath the Earth for centuries, these sharp toothed eating machines are set loose to devour any and everyone in their way. There’s also a subplot about a family surviving the ordeal, but that’s secondary to the visceral tale of naked breasts and bloody flesh eating fishes.

Piranha (2010)
Alexandre Aja was once the most exciting young director working in the horror genre. His worldwide coming out party, Haute Tension, which suffered from obvious script problems (I agree, that twist is really stupid), is perhaps the best made of the early 21st century’s, ‘70s inspired, rough and tumble horror resurgence. Haute Tension is also my personal favourite among the modern horror films out of France, a list which includes such solid showings as Xavier Gens’ Frontiere(s), Fabrice Du Welz’s Calvaire, Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs, and Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s À L'intérieur. His follow-up and English debut, The Hills Have Eyes, is the only film among the recent flood of horror remakes that actually challenges the quality of the source material. Unfortunately, the director has become a remake machine in the wake of The Hills Have Eyes’ success, and his next film as director was the silly, occasionally out rightly stupid American re-jiggering of the Korean film Into the Mirror, re-entitled simply Mirrors. This, along with his production and writing credit on the barely average P2, brought the director’s skill set into question.

Piranha is a mixed blessing for Aja fans. It’s another remake, but it’s well done, and is a remake of a spoof/rip-off/not exactly classic film, so it doesn’t have a lot to live up to. Sometimes it looks a little like The Hills Have Eyes, with all it’s super high contrast, sun-baked exteriors, and when it really counts (sometimes when it’s really funny) Aja still knows how to bring the suspense. The major problem I have with the film isn’t its comedic nature (to the contrary, I’m happy to see Aja changing it up a bit), but that it’s all too easy. Yes, of course I laughed, quite a lot actually, but I was only surprised by the utter audacity of the penis gag (which was probably a lot more audacious in 3D), and everything else came in a wave of fairly obvious anticipation.

Piranha (2010)
The other problem, which should bother me more than it does, is balance. I’m finding this ‘off feeling’ difficult for me to place my finger on in any constructive or intelligent manner, but when the film ends it seems to be just after it found its way. Aja spends too much time making hip-hop music videos, and not enough time making a horror comedy. I like porn star boobs and damp co-eds as much as the next guy, and I understand this is part of the whole joke, but I expected the horror comedy stuff to be spread more evenly over the whole production. There’s plenty of gore throughout the first half (Richard Dreyfus’ opening cameo, and a brief sequence where the title creatures are discovered by scuba divers). It’s not unusual for such a film to take its time setting up the character’s for the kill, but without more interest in developing the characters into people (which is clearly not on Piranha’s ‘to-do’ list), there’s no need not to get things moving. Perhaps I was expecting something different, but I simply had more fun with similarly over-the-top mainstream releases like Final Destination 2 or Crank, both of which aren’t necessarily much more clever than Piranha, but more evenly entertaining overall.

But despite my best effort to whine, Piranha is a blast, it’s just not the film I was expecting from the filmmaker. The best choice Aja and the screenwriters make is to portray the vast majority of the victims as entirely unworthy of even the slightest hint of sympathy, because the centric feeding sequence (also known as the ‘D-Day Sequence’) is one of the most over the top violent things I’ve ever seen in a major release, R-rated movie. The dark comedy behind the violence, which isn’t really present in either Haute Tension or The Hills Have Eyes (both of which struggled to get R-rated theatrical releases) is likely the only reason Piranha got away with an R, because its way more offensive than anything else Aja ever touched. As a horror fan that developed his fandom during the anemic ‘90s, I never thought I’d see anything anywhere close to this level of gore in a mainstream movie. This one sequence is worthy of any of the Final Destination cataclysms, and even nips at the heels of Braindead’s ( Dead Alive) lawnmower sequence. In fact, the scene is so impressively over-the-top it leaves the audience breathless, with no time to give the proper climax its proper due, which takes me back to my previous point concerning balance. There’s very little reason to make a film like this run longer than 90 minutes, but the big blow-up finale (clearly an homage to Jaws) is just weak following the bloody demise of several hundred partying college students. Not to mention a third act with bigger fish would be more interesting than a sequel with bigger fish.

Piranha (2010)

Video


Unfortunately, this is not a review of the 3D version of the film, because I do not own one of those expensive TVs that will be obsolete in 2 years. This 2D version clearly suffers without that third dimension, or so I’m assuming based on the generally uncrisp backgrounds, and more than occasionally goofy looking digital effects. There are some seriously shoddy matte lines in this puppy. Like, Jaws 3D bad. There are also a few mistakes with image doubling, but these are pretty rare. Ignoring these issues this is a strong and vibrant transfer, reveling hungrily in Aja’s super high contrast, sun-baked scenes of colourfully dressed young and pretty people. The contrast between the aggressive warm hues and the cool, rich, blue/green water is especially gorgeous. Sharpness isn’t a strong suit, but the image is very clean, except the purposefully murky underwater shots, which feature some pretty thick digital grain, and even a little blocking.

Piranha (2010)

Audio


I have no complaints about this loud and boisterous DTS-HD Master Audio mix, except that it might not be over the top enough for the silliness on display. The big noises are mostly reserved for bassy dance music, and, more appropriately, for rushing evil fish attacks, which feature more knife sharpening and meat packing noises than I believe I’ve ever heard in one place. The LFE levels are punchy and high volume, without warbling or overpowering the other audio elements during big action scenes. Michael Wandmacher’s score is effectively placed in the mix, and is plenty rich when required, it just doesn’t really compare to the severity of the pop and dance music.

Piranha (2010)

Extras


The extras begin with a commentary featuring director Alexandre Aja, and producers Gregory Levasseur and Alix Taylor. It’s not as riotous or boisterous as I was expecting from the film’s content, but the participants, clearly lead by Aja, are still amusing while describing production. The most emphasis is placed on how limited the timeframe and budget were, though there’s a surprisingly large amount of discussion on subtext and juxtaposition, which is entirely lost in the rush of exploitation that is the final film. The track also verifies that they production was not asked to make any cuts by the MPAA.

Next up are a series of six deleted scenes (7:40, HD). These actually set up the characters pretty well, but I suppose character development wasn’t apex on Aja’s ‘to do’ list. There’s even a minor plot hole covered here. This is followed by ‘Don’t Scream, Just Swim: Behind the Scenes of Piranha 3D’ (2:09:40, HD), a ten part making-of documentary. This runs on a lot of raw behind the scenes footage, cast and crew interviews (many obviously taken from the film’s press tour), and footage from the final film. Subject matter covers pre-production, writing and re-writing the script, Aja’s directing style, casting, setting and location shooting, recreating spring break, filming an underwater nude dance between two girls, gore effects, other practical effects, stunts, musical score, creature design, digital effects, 3D post-conversion, and a series of final thoughts. Extras are finished out with two deleted storyboard sequences (11:10, HD), a trailer, and four TV spots.

Piranha (2010)

Overall


Piranha wasn’t quite the film I wanted from director Alexadre Aja right now, but I have to respect it for its sheer audacity. It’s unlikely you’ll see a more gleefully gory, nudity-fueled odyssey into exploitation again in American theaters with a theater friendly R-rating anytime soon, assuming a real sequel doesn’t come to light. If ever there was a time to enjoy form over content, this is it. This 2D Blu-ray release likely doesn’t quite compare to the 3D experience (I assume), but looks and sounds more than serviceable, and features both a solid commentary track, and a well made making-of documentary in the extras department.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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