Dead Calm riffs upon one of my favorite plot kick-starters in the movies. What if courteous manners and good samaritan ideals end up costing you your life? Questioning how far one is willing to go before they decide to choose safety over being inoffensive is a fascinating provoker. I can think of a number of times during which I was forced into tense conversation, wishing to leave but not doing so merely because I didn’t want to seem rude.
Granted, the characters in Dead Calm are in more precarious a situation than I will ever be in in my lifetime. The movie stars Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill as Rae and John Ingram, a married couple vacationing on their sleek yacht following personal tragedy. Emotions are tense and relaxation is key — though their relationship is stable, it’s hard to say how their union will suffer during the grieving process.
But something unexpected ruptures their time of healing, which is the entrance of Hughie Warriner (Billy Zane), a victim of a nearby shipwreck. He claims that the entire crew died of food poisoning, and that he stands as the boat’s sole survivor. As saying no is not an option whilst surrounded by miles of water, the Ingrams take his word for it, welcoming him aboard without fail.
But as Dead Calm is a psychological thriller, not a weighty drama, of course everything is not what it seems. Hughie turns out to be a homicidal killer, with us discovering this while John is aboard the man’s sinking ship, their new pal alone with Rae and ready to continue his spree.
Eventually, the high tension which ripples throughout the area fattens, but for most of its length, Dead Calm is a suspenseful exercise with a great premise, benefiting from Phillip Noyce’s rigid, style-oriented, and oft-unbearably quiet direction, and the excellent performances from its central trio.
It might be too long for its story to entirely support, but that doesn’t discount the unobscured amount of sweat running down our faces as Rae has to fend for her life for a painful amount of time, as John encounters death on a regular basis and still fights it like a champ. If it were tighter, I might even say that it’s good enough to draw comparisons to Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. For now, though, I'll be easy on it. B+