(Image courtesy of Ted Geoghegan and Freestyle Releasing)
ISLAND ZERO— 2 STARS
The bloody swirls of cold ocean water where a cute little terrier wearing a fou-fou life vest for his yachtsman owner used to be represents the first pre-credits victim of Island Zero. That pooch is the first of a cavalcade of casualties to come. This indie flick of cheesy gore pierced by a stab at serious science works hard to make the most of is resources to craft an involved little creature feature and paranoid thriller. The shrewdly cleaver Island Zero arrives nationwide on VOD on May 15th from Freestyle Releasing.
The rocky and coniferous terrain of a remote island in Maine houses a small fishing community of working class folks. Supported by a 40-mile mainland ferry service, the longtime residents mix with the few tourists and seasonal workers during this Christmastime week in December. A relocated marine biologist among them named Sam (steady TV actor Adam Wade McLaughlin), has been extrapolating trending reports for weeks about declining fish and shellfish catches from the local fishermen. Discovering an odd warm-water jellyfish bloom this late in the year is but one more out-of-whack clue to a disturbing shift in the ecological state of the waterways.
Soon enough, fishermen start to go missing raising everyone’s worry and alarm. Featured among remaining people are the cool-headed part-time Dr. Maggie (Laila Robins of Planes, Trains & Automobiles and ABC’s Deception), Sam’s tech-inclined daughter Ellie (Elaine Landry) and his disconnected significant other Lucy (Teri Reeves, Dorothy Gale on Once Upon a Time), the smitten waitress Jessie (Joanna Clark), and the city slicker author Titus (Matthew Wilkas of Gayby) who is writing a fantasy novel titled Island Zero where all things can be rebooted.
LESSON #1: THE FEARS CREATED BY ISOLATED SETTINGS— When the ferry mysteriously ceases to circulate, the electricity, cell service, and internet connectivity soon depart as well. Not only do sustainable resources stop, but so does the route of any escape, evacuation, or hope. What replaces those comforts are paranoia and phobias. Island Zero, time-stamping each day, does a very good job of building this steady dread with realism and frazzle.
Rapidly dwindling diesel fuel for generators thrusts this buffet, I mean blend, of people into panicked and sometimes selfish resourcefulness. Short of going full TV’s Lost, the threats of nature creeping closer appear to be cleansing the real thing better than the author could have ever written.
LESSON #2: LISTEN TO THE SCIENTIST— Why is that too few people take the educated experts seriously? This is especially true when they can, more often than not, support their hypotheses and theories with data and logical explanations. We’ve seen this failed lesson in plenty of disaster films and creatures features both big and small. Island Zero preys on that trope smartly. Coupled with Lesson #1, folks should be pulling themselves together rather than tearing each other apart.
Something is most certainly out there. Lovingly made on a tiny budget, Island Zero knows exactly what it wants to be and squeezes every penny. Useful aerial photography, dark location shooting to sell the power outage, and a helpful thermographic viewscreen ready to reveal surprises comprise the smooth work from cinematographer and short film specialist Mark Farney. His eye and the directing choices employ sharp DIY tricks to make up for budget deficiencies. Through a few million dollars at this film and you get The Thing mixed with A Quiet Place.
Meanwhile, the debuting director-writer team of Josh Gerritsen and Tess Gerritsen plotted and shot a slow-building dread that creaks like the planks of a boat or an old house floor. Borrowing a few pages from the Jaws playbook to weave some science, tell a few veteran tall tales, and hold full glimpses of the adversary (or adversaries) until late, the filmmakers’ employ a keen slow play. The mounting mysteries that escalate before revelation make you want to watch for more. There is just enough suspenseful sensation in those slow cinematic creaks to get your attention and send a hair or two up on the back of the neck. When enough of that builds up, the tension snaps like that old board in spurts of terrified actions and reactions. Light horror fans will find some clever chills and spills on Island Zero.
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#690)