This review is of the edited TV-14 version of the film. All thoughts below should be addressed as such as a review of the unedited version would be more negative
It’s that time of year again folks, it’s time for a creature feature! Now you may be thinking this should count as more of a horror film and that’s fair but these piranha really mean business and whenever they are on screen you know that things are about to get tricky. They take no prisoners and take no breaks. They just shred everyone in their way. At the end of the day it is a bit of a Jaws homage to be sure but I like how they go all in on this. I dare say it’s pretty close to Jaws in quality too but of course you know that’s not necessarily a good thing.
So the movie starts off with a pair of teenagers deciding to make a foolish mistake and that is to jump in the water near an abandoned testing site. How clean would this water be even if there weren’t piranha around? Well Maggie is called in to find them so she looks around a while and eventually comes across a guy named Paul who enjoys a quiet existence in a little cabin of his. He’s got a good gig going there and doesn’t want to be mixed up in any trouble but there isn’t really any dissuading Maggie so they check out the old government installation. They fight off a crazy guy and release all the piranha accidentally. Now these creatures are headed to a nearby town to take everyone down!
One thing that’s harder to capture in a newer film is how suddenly things happen. The heroes just wander into a crazy little hut and release a terrifying force onto humanity. There isn’t a lot of build up or foreshadowing to this. It just happens and the execution is fairly decent. The scientist could have potentially made things a little better for the world if he had tried to talk instead of immediately going to beat these characters up. C’mon this guy should have known that strategy wasn’t going to work and while it was an emergency, there were lots of ways to quickly get this across instead of the way that he did it. Ultimately this cost him his life which was a really heavy price to make for a simple mistake but that’s how things can go in these films.
Maggie is a decent heroine. She was persistent in her search for the teenagers which is admirable because I don’t think anyone would have faulted her for taking a step back after not finding any trace in the mountains instead of recruiting the old guy to help her. She really just wanted to see the job through and that’s always good. She never lost her determination throughout the film. As for Paul, he’s less of your classic hero and is just someone trying to stay out of harm’s way. He very reluctantly helped out with the search. Sure he did get going once they figured out what was happening but he just as easily would have rolled back into bed if Maggie wasn’t so insistent on his coming. Fortunately he can fight which came in handy against the scientist.
The army actually get involved later on which was nice since I always like to see them around. The only mixed thing here is the way the heroes escape just felt really cheesy. Cmon the security cannot be so weak that they basically just run out after a quick gag. The movie’s fairly serious so perhaps they thought we needed some humor thrown in but it almost feels out of place. I think they could have done a lot better with this whole plot personally. I wanted to see the army get some action even if in a way it would be hard to do when the enemies are fish. Have them fire at the water to no effect or something. They do use some poison but of course that isn’t going to do much here.
The movie does lightly touch on the classic conspiracy angle though. The government naturally doesn’t want anyone to find out what is going on here and they do a good job of covering it all up at least until that is no longer possible. They just didn’t seem very smart with how they handled it. They are trying to salvage things again by the end though so they are consistent. You have to give them some props there. Ultimately the instant you make mutated creatures that have super skills there probably isn’t much of anything that you can do but you still have to try hard. I would have had the film end with a piranha starting to grow a fist or something. Hey with mutations it should be possible right?
The effects aren’t bad but the soundtrack is on the forgettable side. The film’s best quality is its overall atmosphere but at the end of the day that’s really all that it’s got. With the Piranha murdering everyone everywhere it quickly just becomes another animal attack film. Fortunately with piranhas there is less chance of animal violence as it’s mostly just them eating people. It’s still fairly violent as it sure takes them a long time to shred people to bits though. This is not one for the faint of heart. Ultimately it is another good reason why you don’t really want to be in the ocean at all. I feel like on land you can reasonably protect yourself against most threats or feel like you have a shot but in the water there is nothing to anchor you or to really give you good ground beneath your feet so it’s all a lot more terrifying.
I wouldn’t say the movie is particularly scary to be honest but if you put yourself in that position then you can absolutely understand what the fear would be like. It’s not really my kind of film though. I would need more quality characters and a bigger role from the government for this title to really take off. I also think just by nature of the film it would be difficult for this one to be pretty good. When you have an evil animal you’re either going to see the humans destroy it or the animal destroy them and in each case it’s likely going to be a rather violent affair.
Overall, Piranha must have been quite the hit with how many films it has spawned but ultimately I would say that this is one that you can really skip on. There isn’t a whole lot of reason to watch this one when you have much better options on the horizon. Watch Godzilla vs the Sea Monster instead if you want to see what an aquatic animal can really do with full size enhancements to take on the government. Yes that’s definitely the way to do it!