Crikey. "The saltwater crocodile population of Northern Australia is expanding," a title card reads. "So is the human population." Something, clearly, has to give. Black Water, a calling card from Aussie directors Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich, deserves its theatrical release for taking seriously a set-up that countless direct-to-video releases have played for campy, winking, rubber-puppet thrills. Two sisters and the eldest's boyfriend are on a driving holiday; after witnessing a demonstration of tensile jaw strength at a crocodile petting zoo (foreshadowing!), they sign up for "Backwater Barry's Alternative River Tour" - only Barry himself is out when they arrive, so they end up in a boat captained by his second-in-command, a Steve Irwin lookalike in a Castlemaine XXXX cap. Needless to say that, some way upriver, the boat is capsized, its makeshift skipper swallowed up, and the trio find themselves up a tree in a mangrove swamp, surrounded by nothing but a watery expanse inhabited by an angry, hungry handbag-in-waiting. A one-set drama, essentially, the set being "some trees" and "water", it's a largely successful throwback to less complicated times - Jaws is the obvious comparison point - forcing the audience to react to suggestive editing, ripples in the water, the dilemma with which these characters are presented (swim for help, or stay put?) and the credible fear on the actors' faces. It's still a film about people being menaced by a crocodile - an inherently funny concept, provided you're not being menaced by a crocodile yourself - so you watch Black Water with an expression of knowing amusement rather than abject terror. But there's admiration in those smiles, somewhere close to the eyeteeth, for the way the film clamps you in its jaws and tosses you back and forth like a rag doll.
Black Water is available on DVD through Fabulous Films, and to stream via Amazon Prime; a sequel, Black Water: Abyss, opens in cinemas nationwide this Friday.