ASIAN FILM - Review
11:00 - 5th July 2014, by Calum Waddell

Amphibious

Indonesia is not a country whose cinema NEO has covered extensively - mainly because only a few of the nation's new releases ever seem to find their way to these shores (we did get a chance to check out 2012's Shackled quite recently, however, whilst The Art of Killing has won a wealth of deserved acclaim). Unfortunately, then, Amphibious arrives to British shelves with a notable lack of fanfare from either creature feature fanatics or followers of Southeast Asian movie-making. This is a little bit of a shame, because this occasionally clunky monster mash - which was originally filmed in 3D and completed in 2010 - further reveals that the former Dutch colony has blossoming ambitions in the field of genre madness.

Directed by an old hand in Brian Yuzna, the Philippines-born director behind such horror classics as Society (1989) and The Dentist (1996), Amphibious is certainly not a macabre masterpiece but it is daft enough to keep you watching. Set on a fishing rig in the Sumatra Sea, manned by some slave children and their abusive captors, the heroes of this story are actually two American characters: a fossil researcher called Skylar Shane, essayed by the beautiful - but bad - actress Janna Fassaert, and her boat captain Jack (an ageing Michael Paré). The Indonesian child actors are, it has to be said, not especially great - and the rest of the local cast are similarly subpar.

Meanwhile Paré, who was once a Hollywood heavyweight thanks to his star turns in the likes of Eddie and the Cruisers (1983) and Streets of Fire (1984), struggles to add some class, and a chiselled chin, to the critter creepiness. Yet, despite such complaints, when Amphibious does get going, there is plenty to enjoy.

In short: we get to see a big digital beastie erupt from the sea and destroy a bevy of brainless personalities. Now, who can argue with that?

Moreover, Yuzna always has a childlike enthusiasm towards horror and sci-fi - and this oddball outing is no different. Certainly, if you ever wanted to see a cranium being crushed by a multi-legged monstrosity or you find pleasure from skinny dipping damsels being spiked by an oversized sea-scorpion, then Amphibious will keep you happy. However, with that said, this is still low budget filmmaking, and, as such, the CGI-created creature (which, unfortunately, never gets to land in Jakarta itself and trample the Indonesian capital) often leaves something to be desired. This factor is obviously a challenging one for anyone making a movie in a still-developing nation and, ultimately, what Amphibious really lacks is a prickly protagonist that looks as threatening as the DVD cover indicates.

Thankfully, the big beastie is at least well designed and, come the climax, when Yuzna turns the action into a far too delayed showdown between human and horror show - the story at least shifts into first gear. Prior to this, the most frustrating thing about Amphibious is its apparent inability to skip past the various human dramatics (which are not very interesting and, in the case of the subplot about the abused slave kids, pretty heavy handed). Ultimately, it may take some steel patience not to hit the fast forward button so that the creature effects will surface and take precedence on the TV screen. It is also telling that the titular amphibian is -even in digital form - a far more convincing performer than most of Yuzna's cast.

Indonesia itself is an interesting anomaly - the country with the world's largest Muslim population and, yet, with a secular government and some comparatively liberal laws. However, Amphibious draws little on the nation, excluding its religious culture and also its diverse cityscapes and modern history. For all intents and purposes, the seascapes of this unassuming little chiller could be anywhere, and only the accents indicate where the action is taking place. Filmed in English, some of those Indonesian thespians are also struggling a little with what is, clearly, their second language - but given that many of us ignoramuses at NEO only speak in our home tongue that is but a minor moan.

The SyFy Channel has been specialising in movies like Amphibious for a few years now, but we reckon this is one of the better examples of the trend. As mentioned, there is a lot wrong with this Southeast Asian schlocker, but it is also full of fun and it never attempts to be anything but a mindless 82 minutes of childlike carnage. Sometimes it fails - badly - and sinks rather than swims but, in other moments, there is just enough spilled sanguine to keep the action afloat. From the DVD cover alone, which details a bikini-clad beauty being preyed upon by a demon from the depths, the prospective purchaser of Amphibious probably already knows what they are getting: gore, girls and a guts-guzzling gargantuan.

If that sounds like fun then, rest assured, we would take this over either of the similarly scripted Piranha 3D films. Nevertheless, Yuzna's latest yarn is something you will either eat up or find difficult to swallow. Be prepared.

Far from high art, Amphibious lacks brains but splashes around enough blood, babes and body parts to warrant a cautious recommendation...
SCORE: 3/5
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