Onward with the second half of 2023 and Shudder unveils Colombian survival horror, Quicksand. Shudder announced this one earlier in the year, so it comes with a bit of buzz. Regardless this one’s working with a tricky plot device – maintaining dread and audience investment while characters are trapped in a single location. Some movies, like Buried with Ryan Reynolds, make it work. Other movies, like ATM or Adam Green’s 2010 trapped-on-a-chairlift thriller Frozen, had mixed results. Can Quicksand make getting caught in wet, thick sand scary? So far the results aren’t sinking in with critics.
Husband and wife Josh and Sofia have arrived in Bogata, Columbia, for a health care conference. For Sofia, it’s a return to her home country but it’s a somber homecoming. Josh and Sofia’s marriage is on the rocks and the couple has decided to separate. When there’s a bit of downtime from the conference proceedings, the couple decides to try and enjoy the Columbian scenery with a hike through the rainforest. But an unexpected event forces the couple into a dangerous area of the trail where they find themselves trapped in quicksand. No one knows where they are are. And the tree canopy means no one can see them from above. As time runs out, the couple struggles to save themselves and their marriage.
Quicksand Lacks a Real Omnipresent Threat to Qualify Fully as Survival Horror
Intended or otherwise, Quicksand may remind many viewers of another survival horror movie – Open Water. Different locations, different treats but the premises of bickering couples left stranded and trapped in unforgiving environments are undeniably similar. On the surface, Quicksand checks off enough boxes to earn a recommendation. Director Andres Beltran, working with reasonably good production values, mostly keeps things on pace. At just under 90s minutes, Quicksand is a survival horror that knows that its premise has a short shelf-life and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Both principal actors, Carolina Gaitan (Sonia) and Allan Hawco (Josh), are up to the task of carrying much of the thriller.
At just under 90s minutes, Quicksand is a survival horror that knows that its premise has a short shelf-life and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
And Quicksand delivers a handful of uncomfortable, edge-of-your-seat moments. When a giant snake shows up on the scene, you’ll like be squirming in your chair for a minute or two. If these are the thriller’s strengths, they’re too few and far between to elevate this one from mediocrity. Yes, Open Water was also a slow burn but it also presented constant and mounting dangers that included drifting further into the ocean and sharks. In contrast, Quicksand lacks any real omnipresent threat aside from perishing due to the elements. Contrary to silver-screen jungle adventure movies, real quicksand isn’t all that life-threatening. And the threats of snakes or ants come and go too quickly – Beltran never uses them as more than fleeting dangers.
Quicksand Light on Tension, Heavy on the Metaphor
In place of a slow-burn threat outside the risk of starving to death, Quicksand largely focuses on the marital strife between its characters. While Beltran uses awkward moments of silence between the couple to establish discord, writer Matt Pitts (Westworld) lays on the metaphor as thick as the quicksand itself. Once Sofia and Josh are literally stuck together and forced to confront their mortality, all of their past issues with one another come to the ‘surface’. As husband and wife lay out their grievances and tensions mount, you might say their marriage was ‘sinking’ under these issues. And yes, the metaphor that quicksand represents feels just this clunky.
As husband and wife lay out their grievances and tensions mount, you might say their marriage was ‘sinking’ under these issues.
Outside of the heavy-handed storytelling, Quicksand just never really achieves the same sense of desperation that we see in other survival horror movies. For some reason, it always feels like Beltran and Pitts restrain their own story from ever becoming too bleak. Even its ending feels a bit too optimistic. None of these are issues that make this thriller unwatchable. On the contrary, Quicksand is an easy watch from start to finish. Like these issues, some of the plot contrivances used to get the couple stuck together in the first place feel slightly unlikely. But they are not big enough plot holes to deter from enjoying what’s on screen in the moment.
Quicksand is Middle-of-the-Road Survival Horror That You’ll Forget Shortly After Watching
Ultimately, Quicksand falls in a frustrating middle-ground somewhere between passable thriller and unsatisfying. On one hand, Beltran keeps things running at under 90 minutes. Yet the opening and finale still feel a bit dragged out. While there’s a handful of tense moments, Quicksand also lacks a constant threat for its protagonists. And its metaphorical approach to the material is heavy-handed stuff. It also doesn’t help that the ending for its married couple doesn’t feel earned.