To a certain extent reviewing a film like “Frankenfish”, with its lurid box art and a title that only genre fans or those with a healthy sense of irony could love, is an exercise in futility. Indeed, it seems rather pointless to argue the merits of a film whose basic premise revolves around a bunch of rich hunters who decide to create the ultimate quarry by genetically altering Chinese snakeheads. The truth is, no matter how much praise is heaped upon it, the average fan, unless suitably inebriated, is unlikely to touch “Frankenfish” with a ten foot pole. By the same token, its target audience, which to be fair probably includes the drunk and desperate, are not exactly known for their discriminating taste, and any criticism, no matter how savage, will quite rightly be viewed as par for the course.
With this in mind, the only real way to judge “Frankenfish” is by the standards of its peers, and from this perspective the movie is a surprising success, and one of the few genre films to distinguish itself from the grim swamp of the direct-to-rental market for some time. If nothing else, the production values are reasonably high, giving it a much better look than is normally associated with films of this ilk, mostly since it manages to avoid wallowing in the usual cheap computer effects which rob so many ‘nature runs amok’ efforts of any Z-grade charm they may have had. This in itself is quite surprising, given that the film comes from Mark Dippe, a visual effects wizard whose first foray into directing was the astonishingly awful “Spawn”, which drowned its characters in unconvincing CGI, earning him the hatred of comic book fans everywhere.
The plot of “Frankenfish”, such as it is, takes place deep in the Louisiana bayou where a police coroner played by the wonderfully named Tory Kittles is called in to investigate a series of strange deaths which bear none of the trademarks of the usual alligator attacks. Soon enough, he finds himself trapped in a backwater houseboat community, trying desperately to keep the locals and himself off the menu as the monster fish pick them off one by one.
The narrative quite neatly combines elements from “Anaconda”, ” Lake Placid “, and most obviously, “Tremors”, from which it actually borrows several scenes. Still, it does so in an entertaining, trashy and cheerful manner which has no pretensions to providing anything other than lowest common denominator fun. As such, Dippe is able to keep things moving along at a good pace, never having to worry too much about explanations for the ludicrous affair, relying on viewer familiarity to allow him to simply throw in scene after scene of people being devoured, explosions, and astoundingly gratuitous nudity. The story is eminently predictable and devoid of sympathetic or indeed realistic characters, though this in itself is by no means unexpected, and never gets in the way of the film’s modest ambitions.
Dippe’s direction is tight, if unspectacular, and he manages to wring a few tense moments out of the situation without ever taking things too seriously. The fact that most of the characters have ‘kill me’ tattooed on their foreheads means that the enjoyment comes from trying to guess when, rather than if they will die, though since thankfully none of the cast are inordinately annoying, this is by no means a bad thing. The vast majority of the film takes place either at night or in the murky waters of the swamp, and Dippe exploits the setting well, getting a fair amount of cheap scare mileage out of the fish leaping suddenly from the shadows.
The special effects are generally of a reasonable standard, with the monster fish being a pleasing mixture of CGI and rubbery models. The result is surprisingly convincing, and is actually superior to many bigger budgeted features, such as the lame “Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid”. The film contains a fair amount of gore, most of which is similarly well handled under Dippe’s direction, including a couple of fairly spectacular decapitations which help to keep things interesting.
The fact that Dippe does indeed manage to keep “Frankenfish” from becoming a bore throughout, and manages to distract the viewer from caring too much about the plainly routine plotting is no small feat, and helps to make “Frankenfish” a genuinely enjoyable affair. Straightforward, reasonably well made and with enough visceral content to keep genre fans happy, for anyone looking for a film about killer mutant fish, “Frankenfish” would be the one to go for.
Mark A.Z. Dipp (director) / Simon Barrett, Scott Clevenger (screenplay)
CAST: Tory Kittles …. Sam Rivers
K.D. Aubert …. Eliza
China Chow …. Mary Callahan
Matthew Rauch …. Dan
Donna Biscoe …. Gloria Crankton
Tomas Arana …. Jeff
Mark Boone Junior …. Joseph