★★★ / ★★★★
It is said that editing can make or break a movie and this maxim is most appropriate when it comes to Stewart Raffill’s “Croc,” a creature-feature with a limited budget but it tries its darnedest to entertain. In the middle of it is a twenty-foot crocodile and there are a few shots of the animal simply swimming in or laying about at the bottom of a pool. And yet somehow these are edited to make the animal look as though it is observing humans for lunch or outright attacking its prey. On top of this are—from what appears to be—clips from various nature documentaries. The editing’s muse is Frankenstein’s monster. Many may laugh at its barebones (some might say amateur) approach or the fact that it even tried. The final product is imperfect, yes, but I admired the filmmakers’ commitment to make a good movie.
The picture is shot in Thailand and the beauty of the seaside locale cannot be denied. From restaurants and hotels to construction areas and crocodile farms, there is an authenticity to the images, sounds, and the people walking in and out of the frame. Particularly stunning are underwater shots of the Pacific where all sorts of fish, corals, sea snakes, and other creatures are simply shown living amongst one another. I enjoyed that when a person, or persons, are scuba diving, it is patient and quiet. We are simply meant to absorb the images, the experience.
There may not be strong acting all around, especially since some of the non-native English speakers are required to speak the language, but this attribute is not required in a picture that revolves around a killer croc eating men, women, and children. Victims are varied; no one is safe. Even a boy is shown being bitten by a croc—jaws shut around his arm and the poor kid, while screaming, is dragged to the bottom of the ocean. Cue the shrieking mother on the boat, father diving into the water to save his son. But it does not stop there. Its extended horror sequences tend to deliver multiple surprises, which is unlike modern and generic horror movies where one jump scare is delivered and filmmakers call it a day. This work embraces the sub-genre and so it goes not only for the gore but also the effect of compounding thrills.
Killer croc aside, the picture attempts to deliver an earnest subplot surrounding a crocodile farm owner, Jack (Peter Tuinstra), who is in danger of losing his business due to debt. His financial situation is so bad that he has made it a habit to avoid tax collectors. (His sister, played by Elizabeth Healey, tends to bail him out of money troubles. Can he get out of this one?) To make his situation worse, a neighboring resort, owned by Korean brothers (Wasan Junsook, Jibby Saetang), wishes to drive Jack out of business by bribing officials on top of hiring locals to break into the farm and allow trained crocodiles to escape in the hope that the public would be fooled that these crocs were the ones eating people. There is even a murder attempt. A bit of humor, light and dark, can be found during the expository scenes, but screenwriter Ken Solarz wishes to make sure the material does not become a horror-comedy. I think he made the correct choice.
What does not work is the additional subplot involving Michael Madsen playing an American, ex-Navy, out to avenge the loved ones of boat people who became croc food. (He lives among them, I guess.) Ironically, Madsen’s acting style is more polished than his co-stars so he sticks out like a sore thumb. The real problem is that the character, Hawkins, does not say or do anything interesting and so we are left to wonder why he is even there. Instead, I would love to have seen more of Jack attempting to win the heart of Evelyn (Sherry Edwards), an animal welfare investigator who threatens to shut down the farm. Needless to say, they start off on the wrong foot. But then again there is an awful lot of feet being bitten off in this film.
“Croc” is rough around the edges, but I was entertained by it. Despite the grisly occurrences, the inviting scenery made me want to visit Thailand someday. In addition, I felt it is able to find creative ways to circumvent its limitations in a way that is consistently charming. The pacing may lag at times, but it is never dull. I mentioned that a few kills involving the crocodile look as though they were shot in a swimming pool. It embraces this joke; there is actually a delicious kill scene that unfolds in a swimming pool. Clearly, the movie wishes for us to have a good time.