Aja very early established himself as a voice to watch in horror when he arrived on the scene in 2003 with the exceptional slasher Haute Tension (known in the US as High Tension). He followed that up with an appropriately gritty and messed up remake of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes in 2006. Two years later he stumbled a little with Mirrors, a movie that gets an A for atmosphere but features a narrative that stumbles. With that said, I was curious to see how he would adapt his skills to a film that is significantly lighter hearted than any of those prior films.
Well, I am no longer curious. Basking in the afterglow of the excellence that is Piranha 3D I realize that I should not have had any concerns. This movie is exactly what it needed to be, it is exactly what audiences wanted, and I suspect that everyone involved knows it. I have a feeling that this film went through a lot of re-edits since its release was pushed back from its original Spring date, but it does not seem to have hurt the finished project.
What makes Piranha 3D so much fun is that it is not trying to be a cult film or "so bad it's good." It is what it is. It is not trying to be anything other than a bloody good time. It is a pure slice of 1980's styled exploitation. Nearly every frame features gratuitous nudity or bloodshed, often times both.
This is the kind of movie that you could sit around and tear apart for the gratuitousness of it all, for the mediocre to poor acting, for the poor screenplay, for the bad editing, for the sheer ludicrousness of the set up, or any number of other elements. However, it is many of these pieces that make this movie as great as it is.
The story is simple enough, a lake in Arizona plays host to rambunctious spring breakers and amidst the craziness a local high schooler (Steven R. McQueen, grandson of Steve McQueen) is approached by the host of a Girls Gone Wild-esque show (Jerry O'Connell) to show them the hot spots around town. Meanwhile, said teen's mother (Elisabeth Shue), who is also the town Sheriff, is busy trying to keep order. Then there is a little earthquake that opens the bottom of the lake releasing prehistoric piranha into the waters. The vicious fishies make their way to populated waters and comical carnage ensues.
What else can you really say about the movie? It is an absolute blast in the old-school drive-in tradition. It makes no bones about what it is. It is all about exploitative goodness. It goes for the gusto, all else be damned. If you don't like it, get out of the water. That's really all there is to it. It takes a certain taste to like this movie. You have to embrace cheese and it helps to have an affection for those over the top horror films of the 1980's (yes, I know the original was in 1978).
There are characters you will love to hate, there are characters you will like, others you will flat out hate, all blended with a faceless horde of toned bodies and bare breasts ready to be slaughtered. Piranha 3D pushes the boundaries of what qualifies for an R-rated movie. Between the blood and the nudity, they went all out. Also, don't forget a cast that includes Adam Scott, Richard Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames, and Christopher Lloyd!
Bottomline. In the end you know if this movie is for you. It will ever win any prestigious awards, but it does deliver one of the most fun experiences I have had this year. Aja and his team do things that boggle the mind, make no sense, and are sure to horrify conservative audience members. I love it.