Dead Calm (1989)

Movie Title: Dead Calm

Year Released: 1989

Rated: R

Runtime: 1h 36min

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Director: Phillip Noyce

Writer: Terry Hayes (based on novel by Charles Williams)

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sam Neill, Billy Zane, Rod Mullinar, Joshua Tilden, George Shevtsov, Michael Long, Lisa Collins, Paula Hudson-Brinkley, Sharon Cook, Malinda Rutter, Benji,

Review: After a family tragedy, John Ingram (Sam Neill) and his wife Rae (Nicole Kidman) decide to recover with some secluded seafaring. Soon their plans run aground when they discover a sinking ship on the horizon, and with it a suspicious stranger (Billy Zane). Can the concerned couple help this shady survivor or will they fall victim to his shocking psychosis? It's a scary situation at sea even though it's Dead Calm.

Dead Calm is a retelling of the classic "Hitchhiker" urban legend. You know, unsuspecting folks pick up ol' Johnny "Clean Cut" and he turns out to be a ghost, or a blood-thirsty psychopath, and horrifies them beyond belief. But writer Terry Hayes and director Phillip Noyce take it one step further and set this thrilling story on the open ocean, which for my money is terrifying enough. That way our protagonists find themselves trapped on a ship at sea with an unhinged individual with very few opinions for dealing with such a shocking and scary scenario.

This flick is a three-hander. We have three great actors (Nicole Kidman, Sam Neill, and Billy Zane), and only three, to steer the plot along and, thanks to stripped-down screenplay, it's focused on the simplicity of how to John and Rae are going to attempt to get this lunatic off their boat before he kills them. There is real tension between Kidman and Zane's characters, especially after Neill's John is abandoned at sea. Kidman is terrific while terrified, but remains focused and strong, never playing the victim, as she attempts to outsmart her kidnapper. Sam Neill is smart as he tries to survive the ordeal and save his wife from this madman. And Billy Zane is charmingly creepy with his unhinged performance. He's a perfect villain - one you love to hate.

The scariest part is the realization the characters have that they are all alone on the ocean. They are too far out to go for help and no one is coming to their rescue. The ocean is big and scary enough, but when you throw a unstable interloper into the mix, what can you do?

Dead Calm is a thriller that I can't recommend enough. It's intense, suspenseful, and filled with high-seas horror! If you're a fan of the three lead actors, inconceivable claustrophobic accounts of survival during a sea-going voyage, or thrillers that truly thrill and chill, then sea, I mean "see" this movie. And what's the deal with Billy Zane and ill-fated boat trips?

Stars (out of 4):

Fun Fact: Before filming began, Nicole Kidman took lessons from the owner of the Storm Vogel on how to operate the ship. During the storm sequences near the end of the film, she is actually piloting the yacht.


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