Warning: Contains some spoiler-ish moments.
I finally saw Piranha 3D.
This was after everyone I know saw it at sold-out midnight screenings, at theaters filled to the brim with screaming, laughing horror fans. I kept hearing the same thing from everyone: "Seeing Piranha 3D in a theater was one of the most enjoyable moviegoing experiences in recent memory."
I could only grumble a response and curse my hectic life schedule.
So, I finally saw Piranha 3D. I saw it on a Monday afternoon in a completely empty theater. 89 minutes later, I stepped out of the darkened theater and into the bright sunlight and I got in my car and I thought long and hard about the movie I had just seen. I remain shocked by how long and how hard I thought about a movie called Piranha 3D, which is entirely about prehistoric man-eating fish biting the boobs off pornstars and the penis off Jerry O'Connell.
You see, I wasn't sure if I liked the movie and for a movie this basic, this simple, it seemed like an odd conundrum. Either you like watching piranhas debone spring breakers or you don't. Basic movie math.
But there were aspects of Piranha 3D that bothered me. Nothing technical, mind you. The film is shot well enough and director Alexandre Aja trims everything that could possibly be boring and keeps the movie moving at an unholy pace. Even the 3D didn't bother me too much and I hate those stupid glasses and their stupid surcharges.
I was actually bothered on some sort of moral level.
Before you exclaim "Then why are you writing for a HORROR website, buddy?", allow me to explain. Believe me, as a guy who seeks out unsettling and/or gory movies to sic on innocent, unsuspecting friends, I was as surprised by my reaction as anyone.
I immediately recalled the last Aja film I saw, his remake of The Hills Have Eyes. Now, I'm not too fond of that film, but I admire the heck out of it. It's beautifully shot, atmospheric as hell and truly unnerving on a deep, guttural level. It's rare to find a horror film that's genuinely upsetting to watch and I definitely wasn't expecting to find that in a studio horror remake. However, what bothers me about that movie is that it's never fun. It's grim, grim and grim, all the way to the bleak, nihilistic ending. For me to truly embrace a horror film, for me to do more than simply admire it, I have to find something to enjoy. I have to have some kind of fun. Even Aja's first film, High Tension, manages to find fun by making the story an exciting cat-and-mouse chase amidst all the gruesome violence.
It's obvious from his first few films that Aja likes his horror cold and real. That's not my cup of tea, but I'm not going to disparage that.
And this takes me back to Piranha 3D, a movie that is supposed to be a fun horror romp, the exact opposite of what Aja had been doing in the past. I don't think for one second that Aja wanted viewers to take any of it seriously. I know he wanted everyone to have fun watching this movie. But that takes me to what I'm pretty sure is the point I want to make: this movie requires an audience to work.
After an hour of softcore pornography and wacky beach hijinks, Aja has the school of piranhas attack a small army of teenagers in a sequence that will be legendary. The amount of carnage on display is kinda' mindblowing, actually. The only other film that compares would probably be Peter Jackson's equally tongue-in-cheek Braindead, which climaxed when the protagonist strapped a lawnmower to his chest and went to work on a crowd of zombies.
The kills are impressive and creative and everyone involved deserves a pat on the back and a Job-Well-Done cigar. With an audience in attendance, I'm sure the gag involving the woman getting scalped by the boat motor would have killed (pun intended).
But in an empty theater, alone in the darkness, I just felt dirty. The massacre wasn't fun. It was unsettling, completely at odds with the silly tone the film otherwise adopts. Alone in the theater, the sequence isn't a fun romp. It's a massacre. The sequence was built to please an audience, not an individual. It doesn't help that KNB's make-up work is good enough to look completely convincing.
I'm going to see Piranha 3D again. I want to give it a second chance. It is by no means a bad movie, I can tell that much. I just need a packed house and maybe a drink or two. This is the very definition of an "audience movie." It's less of a film and more of a social experience, a wild hour and a half meant to be spent with your fellow horror fans. Seeing it alone did the film no favors. Heck, it did me no favors.
Go see Piranha 3D if you haven't seen it, but see it in the evening, on a weekend. And bring a lot of friends.