2007's Black Water served as a nifty calling card for writer/co-director Andrew Traucki: the second best killer crocodile movie to come out of Australia that year - after Greg McLean's Rogue - it was exactly the kind of thing ambitious young genre tyros make on their way to bigger and better projects. Thirteen years on, we find Traucki making... a belated sequel to his earlier success. What does that say about the possibility of evolution within the Australian film industry? Black Water: Abyss is a taller tale than its predecessor: Traucki has bought himself a drone to play with, while his crocs have retreated underground, lying in wait for fresh meat in a flooded cave system. Yet it's thinner, too: the new toys and sets can't compensate for an absence of new tricks. A quartet of model-pretty Home & Away types have been paired up for a fateful spelunking expedition; after much first-act jawing about the jobs they've lined up and the babies they're expecting, they abseil into the darkness - immediately reminding the hardened genre fan of Neil Marshall's superior The Descent - and begin to dangle above their toothy foes like an especially appetising, be-anoraked snack.
Any horror movie passing into our tentatively reopening multiplexes does so at a disadvantage, in that what's up on screen is liable to seem far less terrifying than what may be in the room. (The advantage, I suppose, is that any audience will now be predisposed to holding its breath.) As a welcome-mat release, Abyss at least offers the reassurance of delivering more or less what any of us would expect from a killer crocodile movie. Of course there's no phone signal inside the cave; of course the party - the four lovebirds, plus their disreputable, gun-toting guide - get picked off one-by-one; of course those you'd put money on to be picked off first and survive the ordeal are those who get picked off first and survive the ordeal. What's in between is really no more than basic puzzle-solving - how to get intact bodies from this side of the cave to that side without attracting undue crocodilic attention - with a cursory splash of interpersonal soap you might think would be best worked out in the car on the drive back home, rather than standing in a cave filling up with water containing a very hungry predator. The functional results may serve a purpose for anyone who desperately wants to get back to wolfing down popcorn while sat in front of utterly formulaic fodder, but the onscreen water-treading mirrors its director's, straining to keep himself visible within the marketplace. In thirteen years, Traucki hasn't found a better strategy to convert his crocs into a credible threat than throwing his camera around at surface level while cranking up his soundtrack. It generates a lot of foam and flailing around, and - this time out - very little in the way of genuine bite.
Black Water: Abyss opens in cinemas nationwide on Friday.