Written by: Terry Hayes
Starring: Sam Neill, Nicole Kidman, Billy Zane
Sailing out in the ocean can provide plenty of fresh air but a level of isolation that can make certain individuals go mad. It puts anyone in trouble in a position where their only option proves to be fighting as running away will not be possible unless you can swim for an inhumane amount of miles. Dead Calm presents this horrifying situation and shows what a woman must do to survive being on-board with a madman.
Trying to distract the grief from the loss of her son, Rae (Nicole Kidman) goes on a trip in the ocean with her boyfriend John (Sam Neill). On his yacht, they sail out and see a man who appears to be stranded and takes him in. After explaining what happened to the ship, John heads back to the abandoned vessel to discover Hughie (Billy Zane) may not be as innocent as he originally presented.
As someone who has never been on a boat not named “The Staten Island Ferry,” the idea of sailing out into open water would scare me to no end. The endless presence of water without land will feel like a salt-water dessert, where shortness of supplies could lead to a slow and painful death. The two protagonists definitely have their own level of expertise but nothing could prepare them for this strange circumstance they find themselves in. Their good samaritan nature invites danger into their lives by taking in Hughie. A more perilous version of picking up a random hitchhiker on the road because an exit could lead anyone ejected to certain death.
After John checks out the abandoned boat alone, Hughie gets up and hijacks the yacht with Rae on it as well. The film then shifts from what should have been a romantic getaway to a psychological struggle of Rae trying to get back to John, who attempts to reach them on a destroyed boat. The switch between the two stories continually builds up the tension of whether or not Rae and John will be reunited and if the former will find a way to survive being stuck on a boat with the unstable Hughie.
Rae and Hughie’s storyline has a more interesting narrative because of the mystery of Hughie and what led to him rowing for safety towards the couple. He makes it seem like everything occurring before their meeting was a series of unfortunate events instead of the intentional actions of a man who lost his way out at sea. Everything has this hot and sweaty glaze over it because of the impact of the sun on everyone, but it conflicts with the tense situation Rae finds herself in. Hughie goes through different mood swings where he acts nicely towards Rae and then can instantly display a harmful level of hostility. Every time we pan back towards them, you never know what version of Hughie we will see.
Desperate situations call for drastic measures and both John and Rae must push themselves beyond their limits in order to ensure they reunite. Certain moments get truly shocking seeing what the characters have to do in order to survive this terrifying ordeal. Even with the desperate measures, this film tends to have an overall feel of a 1980s thriller where certain moments feel over the top, but it works for the story we’re seeing.
Nicole Kidman gets most of the spotlight in this film and she uses her talent to justify the position. This character could easily fall into a damsel in distress trying to survive until John can reach them but she proves to be a fighter in a resilient manner. Boasting her redhead phase, Kidman carries the scenes with Zane and Neill, as she continues her rise to a blisteringly fabulous career.
Simply put but yet also well-made, Dead Calm sets the players fairly quickly and adds a layer of tension with the setting being the mysterious ocean waters. Desperate decisions are made and each character gets pushed to their limits. Survival becomes the key and everything else proves to be immaterial to each character’s will to live. This film will make you second guess whether you should be a good samaritan to random people, as you never know who they may be and what could potentially occur if you invite them into your life.