I don't think I have ever cringed or winced at a movie as much as I did while watching Piranha 3D. Almost every single frame is soaked in blood and most on-screen characters are covered head to toe in freshly bitten teeth marks. My shoulders stiffened and my eyeballs shrieked for help as they suffered the astutely bold barbarism of it all, yet I could not bring myself to turn my head from the screen. In that way, Piranha 3D has achieved what it unashamedly set out to do: to be fucking grotesque. And I loved it.
Some will call it trash, others may call it pointless, but what I call it is unadulterated, boisterous entertainment that pushes the boundaries of acceptable gore. No, this is most definitely not high art, nor is it a masterpiece, but what it is is a refreshing smack in the face to those who smugly raise their noses at these sort of films.
It is an exploitation horror movie, one swimming in lakes of gore-tastic blood and exploding with gratuitous shots of silicone-pumped boobs, giggling away as it cuts up stupid teenagers and shows you their tits. And it's all showcased in three gloriously grisly dimensions, although regrettably not actually filmed with them 3D camera thingies, but converted during post-production. Shame.
The tongue-in-cheek mayhem takes place in Arizona, where an underwater earthquake unleashes a massive pack of prehistoric piranha in the fictional Lake Victoria, after they've been trapped underground for over two million years. Awww, poor little fishies. They've got razor-sharp teeth, they're hungry for flesh, there's thousands of the little buggers and they're pissed off.
Unfortunately, it's Spring Break and Lake Victoria is a hot-spot for fun-loving, partying, beer-guzzling teenagers wearing bikinis and trunks. And unfortunately for them, the piranha aren't the friendly type. Despite several warnings from the police, hundreds of half-naked (and some fully naked) teens dive into the water, unaware of the ferocious, fanged fish swimming below.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, turns out there's a bunch of ruthless piranha waiting for you. The fish fucking devour everything in sight, sinking their jagged fangs into the skin of every single screaming adolescent unlucky enough to still be in the water. The aftermath looks like the opening of Saving Private Ryan, but worse. Much, much worse.
People have their entire legs feasted on, their skin torn off, their faces crushed by boats, the back of their heads eaten through, and a young woman's scalp is yanked from her skull by a propeller. It's difficult to put into words how sickeningly disgusting and nausea-inducing these sequences are. There's even a moment where a poor guy has his dick bitten off. By a piranha, of course.
When we're not watching finned monsters ripping people apart, we're following young adult Jake (Steven R. McQueen), son of Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue). Mom's told Jake to baby-sit his little brother and sister (Sage Ryan and Brooklynn Proulx) while she watches over the parties by the lake, but he goes out anyway and ends up tagging along with asshole porn director Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell), telling the two youngsters to stay at home. They don't.
Along with Derrick and the two stars of his new X-rated film, Danni (Kelly Brook) and Crystal (Riley Steele), Jake goes on a boat to help them find a suitable place to shoot the erotic flick. In piranha-infested waters, no less. The carnivorous beasts soon spring into action, leaving Jake and the gang stranded in the middle of the lake.
Director Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes remake) drowns us with nerve-shredding tension, with all bets off on which of the fish bait cast will be caught hook, line and sinker. A lot of the characters are nothing but walking, talking, partially naked meat for the pack of piranha to munch on, and it is impossible to tell who will survive to the end credits.
It's an ensemble cast, with both unknowns and well-knowns fighting against the angry gilled killers. McQueen is an appealing lead with his character being a likable hero, if largely forgettable, and Shue is convincing as the sheriff trying to control the chaotic situation as well as save her kids.
O'Connell is fantastically hateable, playing the typical sleazy, treats-women-like-objects knob head, but he is a great character. Christopher Lloyd makes a two-scene appearance as eccentric marine biologist Mr. Goodman - although I wouldn't be surprised if his name was Doc Emmett Brown -, chewing more scenery than the fish do.
The special effects on the piranha are spectacularly cheesy, fitting in with the over-the-top tone. They have a substantially threatening appearance and certainly do look like they could sever some limbs if they wanted to. And believe me, they want to.
Aside from the opening sequence, which has the awesome Richard Dreyfuss in it, the piranha remain mostly unseen for the first forty minutes. We get a couple of kills, but it's not until just before the big massacre half-way through that we get a full glimpse of them, reminding me of 1975's Jaws. For this, I had to admire it as it doesn't shoot its load too quickly, smartly working on the suspense.
Piranha 3D does pretty much everything it says on the poster. While I'd say that the gore goes a bit too far at points (I'm a pussy), it is enormously amusing watching so many people get sliced and diced at the jaws of fish. The self-aware script delivers gallons of humour, and the film adequately isn't meant to be taken seriously for a fraction of a millisecond. It's a lotta fun. The only true victims here are the tourism board for Lake Havasu, where the film was shot. Tourist numbers may take a slight dip.