The legacy of Piranha lies in a tradition of good effects work, fun horror tricks as well as poor plot/storylines. And while the mixture of fun Joe Dante-cult series and smart Alexandre Aja horror sensibilities are a combination for smart intentions, this fare hits the “camp” quality too much on the mark.
There is so much delivery of sexualized pseudo-3D effects that the implicit analysis of male-scopophilia is not balanced enough to warrant a congrats for effective Hitchcock-ian application of technology and genre. While these elements were not strong enough to combat 3D exploitable elements, they are strong enough to summon a mention, as the message of the film should not go without notice.
The context of the plot lies in the traditional alcohol-sexed teenaged beach party of any aquatic horror, where the camera is immediately immersed in overly objectifying 3D close ups of unidentified and scantily clad women. While this is obviously what will sell tickets, in the tradition of this genre, Aja also takes the length of the first act to deconstruct this gaze and equate it with the horror of consumption found within the blood-seeking monsters. For, just as in any sex-horror of the late 70s/early 80s, we find those unwed teenagers that participate in any sexual activity are prone to ill-conceived death and pain. Aja not only plays by the rules, but also implicates the audience as both initiator of such desires, and executioner. When the porn-star females lure the virginal female-love interest into the Piranha-infested waters, it is up to a conflicted male to save her. What the male is conflicted over is the point of the film’s deconstruction of gaze: the desire to objectify from the safety of audience (depicted as he frames a video-camera to record intended pornographic material) and the elimination of such enticement (the death of those participating in this material). Aja not only suggests this through the main character’s conflict, but solidifies this theme when the audience is presented with a fascinating moment in which two naked women rotate within water, presenting the moment of desire to experience “everything” in 3D, but also anticipate the possibility of death for these women at any moment. A terribly masochistic moment that reveals the true nature of Aja’s Piranha horror.
While this initial setup seems an appropriate and intelligent use of 3D technology, it does not satisfy the questions that arise about misogynistic tendencies about this horror’s origin. The reason for the plot’s horror lies in the accidental opening of a cavern beneath a lake, revealing a subterranean lake from which prehistoric dangers lie. While there is nothing complicated about these plot-facts, the camera reveals this “fissure” opening cavern in framing that is quite vaginal, and once two scuba divers enter this “fissure,” they find a cavern full of eggs, implicating the origins of this “horror” to be quite feminine. The panic, disaster, and suffrage occurs from the birthing of the young, revealing this horror to be male-centered.
The last balancing point lies in a smartly cast Elizabeth Shue, as the only mother figure within the narrative who not only maintains a position of authority as local sheriff, but displays a fearless heroism un equaled by any other female figure. It is because of her initial calls for safety and plans for survival that save some of these selfish and gland-driven teenagers from complete disaster and (effective) carnage (not to mention saving her own pre- teen children in need of babysitting).
While Aja misses with his normally well-balanced commentary-subtext and genre exploitation, his entry into the Piranha franchise slides too perfectly into traditional horror-genre sequel (with the assistance of quality work from Gregory Nicotero).