Piranha 3D is a horror movie bar mitzvah. It turns boys into men, cleaving their lives into two distinct periods: Before Piranha 3D, a time we shall refer to as The Darkness, and after Piranha 3D, also known as The Awakening. Now that I have thankfully awoken in its glorious elysian fields of excessive gore and outrageous nudity, I never want to return to horror films that require fewer than 800,000 gallons of fake blood spilling forth from 500 bikini-clad extras. Anything less is an insult and, frankly, a malicious waste of my time.
Now, of course that's all hyperbole, but that's also the point. Alexandre Aja's Piranha 3D is a movie that thrives on constantly pushing things over the top. The gore, the nudity, the language, the gags, the characters-- it's all always on the rise. Just when you think things could not possibly get more ridiculous, that the film has peaked, Aja and screenwriters Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg manage to ram another syringe of adrenaline into its heart, completely bypassing any exhaustion it, and by extension the audience, may have been feeling. This is the kind of movie that refuses to stop indulging in B-movie cliches that other recent films of its ilk clearly feel guilty about having fun with.
Piranha 3D doesn't know the meaning of the word guilt. All it knows is that the Spring Break hot spot Lake Victoria has an unexpected infestation of a particularly violent species of piranha believed to have been extinct for thousands of years, and that the only thing that stands in the way of the lethal swarm of fish and the co-eds who have taken to the lake like its their holy mecca, is a small sheriff's department (run by Elisabeth Shue), a trio of underwater seismologists (led by Adam Scott), and a crew of nudity-seeking filmmakers (captained by the stupendously arrogant Jerry O'Connell) who have hired the sheriff's son (Steven R. McQueen) to show them the best local spots to film their Wild, Wild Girls (Kelly Brook and Riley Steele).
Yes, the plot is threadbare, but what it lacks in narrative complexity it makes up for with memorable characters. In fact, the strength of the characters is one of the most unexpected elements in Piranha 3D. From the typical hero characters of Shue and Scott to the gorgeous goddess that is Kelly Brook, the core players are slightly more than just fish food waiting to happen, and you do actually feel an emotional attachment to a few of them. It's not to the point where anyone is bound to shed a tear when their faces are bitten off or their legs are left looking like human tooth picks, but it is unusual for killer animal movies to make you feel remorse for characters beyond a primal 'that looks painful' reaction.
Of course, there is still plenty of 'that looks painful' going around in Piranha 3D. The eponymous fish may often arrive in a frenzy of indistinguishable CGI blurs, but the aftermath of their feeding is a grizzly body count supplied by the always-outstanding (and Academy award winning) special make-up effects team of Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger. The amount of carnage they cook up in this film is simply awe inspiring. People aren't just nibbled on by fish, they're torn limb from limb. I imagine walking through whatever building housed all of the team's make-up effects would have been a gut wrenching experience in the best of ways. In particular, the body parts required for the scene in which the throngs of co-eds try to make it ashore must have been especially staggering. The carnage on display there makes the opening scene ofSaving Private Ryan look like an ad to come relax on the beaches of Normandy.
As much as I loved Piranha 3D, however, there are naturally a few problems with it. The aforementioned CGI can be hard to keep track of at times, but the only major disappointments are a few dangling character threads that we never see cut from the cloth or patched back together. There are a small number of side characters that are established in ways that are never given the noteworthy send off that they warrant. The script keeps the larger events so engrossing, however, that you may not notice until the credits roll that certain people were unfortunately lost in the blood drenched shuffle.
That a few unresolved fates for side characters can be pegged as the film's biggest problem is pretty remarkable, all things considered. All of the other elements that one could justifiably expected to have gone horribly wrong go completely right. Even the post-production 3D conversion looks top notch, which just goes to show that not all movies that use the process will look as ghastly as Clash of the Titans or The Last Airbender. (I should note that, though it looks great, the extra dimension is hardly what makes Piranha 3D worthwhile, and that there is no doubt in my mind that it will be just as much fun in 2D.) Naturally the film isn't for everyone -- there are five minute stretches of it that have more crimson mayhem and nudity than most Hollywood horror movies sport throughout their entire running time -- but if the idea of such a free-spirited horror movie doesn't scare you off, then I can all but guarantee the execution of it will put a smile on your face for days.