Stranger-danger flicks worthy

By Doug Cummings

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Now that Australian director Phillip Noyce has redeemed his thriller-oriented movie career with "Clear and Present Danger" after the stumblingly contrived "Sliver" and "Blind Fury," his earlier film "Dead Calm" merits a second look.

Along with "Dead Calm," Roman Polanski's influential classic "Knife In the Water" is a captivating thriller that creates a fascinating double feature. Both of the movies take place between three characters on a small boat in the middle of nowhere, whose sexual tensions create entrapped violence.

"Dead Calm" (1986) is a brooding thriller about an ocean-yachting married couple played by Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman who one day happen across a young shipwreck castaway who becomes a problem when he attempts to kill Neill and kidnap Kidman. Despite a few conventionalities, the movie works well because of its determined performances and several effective set pieces, including a scene where Neill is locked in a closet that is slowly filling with water from a sinking ship.

Similarly, one of the cinema's reigning masters of the macabre, Roman Polanski ("Rosemary's Baby," "Chinatown"), began his career with "Knife in the Water" (1962), a mesmerizing thriller about a couple who invite a hitchhiker along with them for a boating holiday. Polanski's horror is more psychological than Noyce's, as the two males become violently estranged through mounting shows of masculinity, competing for the accompanying female's attention. As always, Polanski's precise camerawork conveys a strong sense of setting and chaotic horror waiting on the fringe.

Both of these movies take advantage of the common fear in befriending unknown strangers. Their mutual dependence on a setting involving secluded boats emphasize their characters' vulnerability and inescapable tensions.

Wildcat Film Reviewer Doug Cummings is a media arts production sophomore.

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