Dead Calm (film)
Dead Calm poster
Directed by Phillip Noyce Produced by Terry Hayes
Written by Charles Williams (novel)
Starring Sam Neill
Music by Graeme Revell Editing by Richard Francis-Bruce Distributed by Warner Bros.
Roadshow Entertainment (Australia, theatrical)
Release date(s) 7 April 1989(U.S. release) Running time 96 minutes Country Australia Language English Box office $7,825,009 (USA)
Dead Calm is a 1989 thriller film starring Sam Neill, Nicole Kidman and Billy Zane. It was based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Charles Williams. The film was directed by Australian filmmaker Phillip Noyce and filmed in the Great Barrier Reef.
A troubled couple, Australian naval officer John Ingram (Neill) and his wife Rae (Kidman), lose their son in a car crash. John hopes that some time alone will help Rae, who was driving the car, cope, and the couple head out for a vacation alone on their yacht. In the middle of the Pacific they encounter a drifting boat that seems to be taking on water. A man, Hughie Warriner (Zane), rows over to the Ingram's boat for help. He claims that the boat is sinking and that his companions have all died of food poisoning.
Suspicious of Hughie's story, John rows over to the other ship, leaving Rae alone with Hughie. Inside, John discovers the mangled corpses of the other passengers and video footage indicating that Hughie may have murdered them in a fit of insanity. John rushes back to his own boat but is too late as Hughie awakes, knocks out Rae and sails their yacht away, leaving John behind.
As John attempts to repair Hughie's ship from sinking and catch up to them, Rae awakens and tries to convince Hughie to go back for her husband. Hughie denies her request and keeps on sailing, alternating between kindness and bouts of rage as he attempts to charm Rae. John manages to get through to his wife on the radio, but the water damage makes him unable to reply with the exception of the clicks on his receiver. He can only respond to her suggestions. Rae soon learns that the damage to Hughie's boat will cause it to sink in the next several hours and realizes she must act.
Desperate to gain control of the boat, Rae gives in to Hughie's advances and the two have sex. Afterwards, she fixes them some lemonade, putting a heavy dose of her prescription sedatives into his drink. As a fierce storm comes on, Rae and Hughie come to blows, with Rae eventually shooting Hughie with a harpoon gun and knocking him unconscious. She then sets Hughie adrift in the boat's life raft and sails back to rescue John. Meanwhile, the damage and the storm have caused the other boat to sink almost completely. John swims out of the boat and sets the debris on fire, attracting the attention of Rae, who rescues him from a piece of floating debris.
After John's rescue the couple find the life raft and Rae shoots it with a flare, setting it on fire. The next day they are relaxing on deck when John takes a break from washing Rae's hair to prepare breakfast for his wife. Her eyes closed, Rae feels a pair of hands begin massaging her scalp and assumes it is John, but when the hands turn aggressive she opens her eyes and sees a bloody Hughie Warriner, who tries to strangle her. While Rae struggles, John arrives from below deck. Seeing his wife being attacked, he shoots Hughie in the mouth with their flare gun, killing him.
The movie is based on the novel Dead Calm by Charles Williams. Other than character names and the scenario of a woman trapped on a boat with a psychopath, the film bears little resemblance to the book, which had several other main characters (including Hughie's wife and another couple), and presented Hughie as a nominally asexual manchild. The movie was filmed over a 14-week span in the Whitsunday Islands.
Dead Calm has a 7.5/10 "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a critical rating of 95%. According to Variety, Kidman is "excellent throughout, ... [giving] the character of Rae real tenacity and energy;" and the picture is "handsomely produced and inventively directed." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that the film "generates genuine tension." Desson Howe of the Washington Post praised the film's creators: "Noyce's direction moves impressively from sensual tenderness (between husband and wife) to edge-of-the-seat horror. With the accomplished editing by Richard Francis-Bruce and scoring by Graeme Revell, he finds lurking dangers in quiet, peaceful waters."
On the other hand, Caryn James of the New York Times felt that the film was "an unsettling hybrid of escapist suspense and the kind of pure trash that depends on dead babies and murdered dogs for effect," and that Dead Calm "becomes disturbing for all the wrong reasons." A number of critics faulted the film's ending as being over-the-top, with the Post's Howe writing, "... while it's afloat, 'Dead Calm' is a majestic horror cruise. ... For much of the movie, you're enthralled. By the end, you're laughing."
The acting was generally considered excellent, with Zane being cited for injecting "unforgettable humanity and evil puckishness into his role" and being "suitably manic and evil." And while Rita Kempley of the Washington Post wrote "what's most fascinating about it is Rae's place in the pantheon of heroines, an Amazon for the '90s," the Times' James called Kidman's character "tough but stupid."
The film is listed on the New York Times Top 1000 Movies list, derived from editor Peter M. Nichols' The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made (St. Martin's Griffin, 2004).
- ^ a b "Dead Calm," Box Office Mojo. Accessed Nov. 10, 2011.
- ^ "Dead Calm (1989)," Rotten Tomatoes. Accessed Nov. 10, 2011.
- ^ Dead Calm review Variety (January 1, 1989).
- ^ Dead Calm Chicago Sun-Times. 7 April 1989
- ^ a b c Howe, Desson. 'Dead Calm'," Washington Post (April 7, 1989)
- ^ a b James, Caryn. "Critics' Pick: Reviews/Film; A Psychological Drama Of Nightmares and Death," New York Times (April 7, 1989).
- ^ Kempley, Rita. "‘Dead Calm’," Washington Post (Apr. 7, 1989).
- ^ Top 1000 Movies List New York Times.
- ^ Film Victoria - Australian Films at the Australian Box Office
- Dead Calm at the Internet Movie Database
- Dead Calm at Rotten Tomatoes
- Dead Calm at the National Film and Sound Archive
- Dead Calm (1989) review by Noel Tanti
Films directed by Phillip Noyce 1970sBackroads (1977) • Newsfront (1978) 1980sHeatwave (1982) • Echoes of Paradise (1987) • Dead Calm (1989) • Blind Fury (1989) 1990s 2000s 2010sSalt (2010)
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