A massive hurricane, a flooded sheriff station, violent prisoners, and an attempted jailbreak are not enough for this low-budget thriller – it’s got hungry alligators, too!
Don’t let the reactions – from both critics and audiences – on Rotten Tomatoes dissuade you from watching The Flood. Despite poor special effects, the film is an enjoyable hoot in the great tradition of overstuffed movies with far more going on than is really necessary. Is there such a tradition? It feels as if there should be, but the only example that comes to mind is 1998’s Deep Rising, which could not leave well enough alone with a plot about a luxury yacht attacked by mercenaries in the middle of a storm but had to throw in sea monsters as well. The Flood does much the same thing. Judging from the references to Gremlins, screenwriters Chad Law and Josh Ridgway are fans of 1980s horror films, but their real inspiration seems to be more along the lines of someone thinking John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 would have been even better with man-eating monsters.
Naturally, The Flood is about a flood but not only that; it’s also about some dangerous prisoners in-transit who have to ride out the storm in a small local jail in Louisiana. On top of that, one of the prisoners has some former associates outside, and it would all be too simple if they just wanted to bust him out; in fact, they hate him for getting away with the money they stole from a bank, so it’s time to settle the score. But wait – there’s more! The flood waters have displaced a boat-load of alligators, and of course these are movie alligators of what we like to call the “Jurassic Species” – which is to say, they are pretty much impervious to bullets, and they have the metabolism of hummingbirds, meaning they have to eat nonstop. And you know what’s on the menu…
In the manner of a good, old-fashioned drive-in movie, The Flood efficiently exploits its setup for suspense and horror without wasting much time on subtlety or backstory. The main questions are: Who is going to die? In what order? And will we cheer or cringe when the get it? The last one is the most interesting since the film’s pressure-cooker is fraught with conflicts. Of course we know the plot will force the characters into a situation where cops and criminals must work together to survive, but there are factions on either side of the divide. The transit prison guards are not necessarily on the same page as the sheriffs deputies, and it’s not clear that the violent felons want anything to do with each other (among them is a black man and a white supremacist, which leads to an interesting moment when one needs help from the other to survive an alligator attack). The humans are almost as likely to be killed by each other as by the rampaging reptiles.
The attack scenes are executed with a heavy dose of CGI gore and an even heavier dose of poor marksmanship. Everyone seems to shoot with the accuracy of Imperial Storm Troopers (unless we really are supposed to believe the gators have bullet proof hides), but this is part of the movie’s enjoyable absurdity. What really makes these scenes work is that they strike an effective balance between slow suspense and sudden jump-scares, between making the audience think “good riddance” or “too bad” regarding each victim.
Unfortunately, the special effects are subpar even by low-budget movie standards. It is disappointing that forty-three hears after Alligator (1980), modern digital technology falls so far short of those old-fashioned analog effects. Although the flood is rendered effectively with some newsreel footage, the CGI is visible to even uncritical viewers: the exterior shots of the jail feature a fake-looking structure washed in fake-looking rain, and the climactic explosion features some obviously digital “flying glass.” Worst of all the gators tend to be rather cartoony when seen crawling in full-body shots. Fortunately, the creatures are a little more convincing when submerged or swimming just nose and eyes above water. , and the movie is fun enough that we can overlook the weak effects.
The characters are drawn in stark ways: there is no depth but you know who they are well enough to engage with their predicament. The rogue’s gallery of prisoners is pretty diverse: they are all dangerous criminals but in different ways, so they’re easy to tell apart interesting to watch, with just a clever key details establishing their identities: e.g., the one called “Big Jim” is only the second-biggest bruiser in the bunch, putting him at odds with the biggest man.
Of course the jail is run by a beautiful blonde sheriff, played by Nicky Whelan, but she reminds us of Katie Sackhoff (who kicked ass as a sheriff’s deputy in Longmire), so we fine believing Sheriff Jo can run the place with authority. The story’s main focus is on her and alleged cop-killer Russell Cody (Casper Van Dien) – as the least volatile and most pragmatic of the bunch, will they be able to forge a truce in the interest of mutual survival? Van Dien seemed set for major stardom when he played the lead in Starship Troopers back in 1997; now he’s reduced to direct-to-video stuff, but he cuts a strong figure as the archetypal strong, silent anti-hero. The two actors doing the “gradually learning to respect each other” thing well enough – without, thankfully, much in the way of contrived romantic sparks.
The Flood is not great cinema, but it is a good popcorn movie with the feel of a low-budget ’80s thriller. In the annals of Killer Croc movies, it ranks somewhere in the middle: below Alligator, Rogue, and Blackwater, but well above Croc, Croczilla, Dinocroc, et al. Unfortunately, it’s time in theatres will be short; hopefully, interested viewers will discover it on home video.
The Flood (2023)
1 – Avoid
2 – Not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
The computer-generated special effects are frankly bad, but the movie itself is pretty good if you are looking for an unpretentious horror-thriller with a crackerjack premise, lots of action, and a steady diet of human victims served up to hungry alligators.
Cast: Casper Van Dien, Nicky Whelan, Louis Mandylor, Randy Wayne, Devann Pinn, Ryan Francis, Kim DeLonghi, Mike Ferguson, Kelly B. Jones, Eoin O’Brien, Bear Williams, Randall J. Bacon.
Credits: Directed by Brandon Slagle. Written by Chad Law & Josh Ridgway. 93mins. Rated R. Distributed by Lionsgate. US Theatrical and VOD Release Date: July 14, 2023.
The Flood is currently screening in an exclusive engagement at the Laemmle Glendale Theatre.