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By Steve Anderson | January 8, 2007

I have to admit, I was very surprised by “Dead in the Water”, a movie with a lot of overly familiar plot elements that managed to coalesce into a whole far more exciting than the sum of its parts.

What are these parts? Well, let’s take a look–we’ve got a foursome–two guys and two girls–out for a camping trip to a lakeside cabin to visit the girls’ parents. And when they get out there, they’re going to find a whole lot more than they bargained for. Like missing parents. A tainted lake.

Oh, yeah…and the undead.

I walked into this thinking it at least had some creepy, if familiar, mojo working for it. It was a foregone conclusion that the cell phones wouldn’t work–it’s pretty much a “horror movie rule” (thank you, “Scream”, for your little video store bastard who pretty much forced that concept to be a part of the national parlance.) that wherever you are, you are out of your coverage area. And, okay…”bloodthirsty whatsits living in the lake” isn’t what you’d call a real original plotline. And when the “bloodthirsty whatsits possibly spawned by meteorites and / or toxic waste” plot component swings in, the originality level just drops through the floor.

But man, I do have to admit…they took an incredibly unoriginal basic premise and just let it ride. It actually manages to be scary in more than a few points, because it doesn’t emphasize the “bloodthirsty whatsits” so much as it emphasizes the “in the lake” part. Sounds a little strange, I know, but it’s going to take over a third of the movie’s runtime before we even see more than a hand on the bloodthirsty whatsits in the lake.

Perhaps the best part is that they’ll even admit that they’re using all the standard tricks and conventions. They know damn well they’re using “Horror 101” tactics, but they’ve managed to make something really interesting with it. In fact, they’ve done all the right things here. They’ve made the tension grow steadily, from without and from even within, as the horror and the unknown of a night in the dark grows throughout. It’s a textbook case. Genuinely, if someone ever does a horror movie textbook, this will have to be part of the book.

The ending is actually going to manage to boost the originality level overall by at least several points, and is downright amazing, in all honesty.

All in all, despite the overwhelming familiarity of the plot and its events, “Dead in the Water” will prove to be anything but.

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