Island Zero is horror film set on a fishing island off the coast of Maine – and it’s not based on a Stephen King novel. Available this week across several VOD platforms, I hadn’t heard much buzz on this new underwater monster film, but the premise seemed fun. Written by Tess Gerritsen and directed by her son, Josh Gerritsen, Island Zero promised a modern spin on the sci-fi/monster movie genre for horror fans.
With Christmas just around the corner, the inhabitants of a small fishing island off the coast of Maine find themselves cut off from the outside word when the ferry fails to show. As all communications are lost to the mainland and fish disappear, the community becomes increasingly desperate. Soon bodies begin to turn up along the shoreline and the island survivors are faced with a new aquatic predator.
Old-Fashioned Story-Telling Hampered by Poor Pacing
Island Zero feels a lot like an old-fashioned sci-fi/horror film from the 1950’s, and that’s a good thing. Tess Gerritsen’s screenplay homages classic monster films from past era’s with Warner Bros Pictures’ 1954 film, Them, most readily coming to mind. Similar to these past classics, Island Zero’s aquatic threat only slowly reveals itself, with local marine biologist, Sam (played by Adam Wade McLaughlin), the only one certain there’s something dangerous off the shoreline.
Island Zero so closely follows monster film conventions that you know where the film is going straight out of the gate …
Yet in spite of the best intentions to homage and update these classics, Island Zero is hampered by absolutely terrible pacing and a slavish devotion to the genre’s conventions. Very little happens in the first 40 to 45 minutes of the film. It’s a full hour into the story before we finally get a confrontation between the aquatic monsters and the island survivors. Island Zero so closely follows monster film conventions that you know where the film is going straight out of the gate, but are left waiting for something to happen in between the anticipated plot points. The Gerritsen’s don’t do enough to adapt or play with the genre, and there are no real scares and little tension to fill in the gaps.
Poor Creature Effects and a Silly Twist
When Island Zero does try and throw in a twist in its final act, it feels a little silly and unbelievable, even in a film about a new aquatic species feeding on people. At the very least, the idea is not in keeping with the film’s more serious tone. Its government conspiracy elements are also not particularly surprising as 1980’s updates on the monster film genre, like The Blob, were always more cynical then their 1950’s predecessors.
Director Josh Gerritsen wisely opts to keep his monsters hidden for most of the film. In a nod to Predator, the monsters can only be seen with a thermal camera and are otherwise invisible for the most of the film. Yet Island Zero probably borrows a little too much from Predator as even some of the creature sound effects seem very familiar. While keeping the monsters offscreen as much as possible gets around budgetary constraints, it does lead to some awkwardly staged stunts. Inevitably, the creature reveal will likely disappoint most viewers.
That being said, Island Zero has a few fun gory scenes that highlight the inventiveness that makes indie-DIY horror a lot of fun. We get some impressive intestine-spilling monster action, courtesy of special effects coordinator Eric Anderson, that give Island Zero a little heft. Unfortunately, Gerritsen adopts a more serious tone when Island Zero may have benefitted from embracing the silliness of its concept and going a little off the rails, like say John Gulager’s Feast.
Capable Performances Carry Island Zero in the Absence of Scares
Aside from familiar narrative and pacing problems, Island Zero is anchored by convincing performances from its two leads, Laila Robins and Adam Wade McLaughlin. Robins, as the island’s doctor, really carries the film, standing out whenever she is on screen. The other performance, from largely amateur actors, are a little on the wooden side, but certainly won’t distract from watching the film.
Horror fans will likely be unhappy with the lack of any real scares in the film.
Horror fans, however, will likely be unhappy with the lack of any real scares in the film. Even forced jump scares are pretty much a ascent throughout Island Zero. This may stem in part from the film’s predictability, but like some of the stunts, it may also be the result of just some awkward staging in some scenes.
Island Zero Overstays Its Welcome
To be honest, I really wanted to like Island Zero. I love old-fashioned monster movies, like The Blob, and crazy low-budget creature-features like Feastcan be a lot of fun. There is a lot of potential in Island Zero and you can see that potential several times while watching it. Nonetheless, Island Zero is a really boring film and that overstays its welcome running at nearly an hour and 40 minutes.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C