A team of profit hungry pharmaceutical scientists goes in search of a rare orchid that holds the key to eternal youth. They hire a river boat (and her trusty captain) and set off into the jungles of Borneo, desperate to reach the "Blood Orchid" patch before its rare flowers disappear for another 10 years of hibernation. When their ship is wrecked, they decide to persevere on foot. Unbeknownst to them they are stumbling into the territory of an entire clan of gigantic anacondas, and they will soon be fighting simply to survive.
Imagine being stuck on foot and without weapons in the middle of a dense, rain soaked jungle teeming with dozens of gigantic man-eating snakes. Sounds scary huh? Well it's not - at least not the way "Anacondas" shows it anyway. In fact the movie can't even manage one good skrik in its entire 90 minutes.
The main problem is the utterly inept scripting. A junky horror film doesn't need flawless logic, or believable dialogue, but it does need some grasp of dramatic tension. You can't just have your characters shamble gormlessly around the jungle and then play "scary" music whenever they have a near miss with one of the monster snakes. You need to build the tension gradually, subtly, with lots of mini-scares and red herrings along the way.
Another important ingredient in a good horror flick is characters that the audience can at least identify with, if not actually care about. Most of the characters in "Anacondas" are downright nasty and you're quite glad when they get gobbled up. The rest are either highly annoying or dead boring - why would you care if they became snakey snacks?
Of course the situation is not helped by the questionable casting. Apart from the long-suffering Morris Chestnut (a charismatic and very under appreciated character actor), the rest of the cast are D-grade no hopers selected more for their looks than their ability. Their inept delivery magnifies the awfulness of the dialogue to excruciating levels. Lines like "It's a jungle out there - something's always getting eaten" could, in the right hands, be wryly amusing. Instead they jar like a lounge singer missing the high notes.
One thing can be said for the sequel - the studio has learnt its lesson that animatronic beasties cannot be done on the cheap. The first movie featured a robotic snake so obviously fake that it became a running joke. This time they wisely decided to make almost all their man-eaters computer generated, and the brief glimpses you get of them (and I mean brief - less than two minutes worth) are fairly convincing. But the slapdash direction and editing even water down the thrill of watching someone get scoffed.
There's a trend in Hollywood towards making films "so bad they're good". Movies like 'Starship Troopers" and "The Core" can be great fun if watched as a form of campy comedy. But "Anacondas" doesn't fall into this category - instead it's simply "so bad it's bad".
Few people would go into a movie titled "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid" expecting an art film, but most would expect some good old-fashioned cheap thrills. Well, "Anacondas" is certainly cheap, but the only thrill it's likely to give you is when you can escape after 90 minutes and go do something fun, like laundry.
- By Alistair Fairweather
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