May 14, 2018 Island Zero (Movie Review)
Though she is more well-known for her Rizzoli & Isles series of novels, Tess Gerritsen is no stranger to making people’s spines tingle. She made her name in the late ’90’s and early 2000’s writing suspense novels like 2002’s The Apprentice and 2007’s The Bone Garden. Cinematically, she had only one credit: writing the script for the TV Horror film Adrift in 1993, where a seafaring couple fall afoul to another couple. Now, thanks to Donkey Universe Film and Freestyle Digital Media, she has Island Zero to add to her resume. Due to VOD on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, it promises a tale of isolation and terror.
Island Zero is about the inhabitants of a fishing island off the Maine Coast. Everything seems to be going well, that is until the mainland ferries stop coming and the islanders lose contact with the mainland. Subsequently, anyone who tries leaving the island disappears, and it only gets worse when bodies start washing up on the island’s shore. The islanders therefore have no choice but to find out what is seemingly after them, or to sit and starve on the island. After all, every thing needs to eat.
Between this seaside horror, the shipwreck in Adrift and calling a character Maura Isles, Tess Gerritsen likes her marine themes. That or it is all part of living in her home state of Maine- no stranger to famous fiction thanks to its other home-state hero, Stephen King. In fact, Island Zero was filmed across different locations in the state from Islesboro to Northport. So, one could say this film is working at home, especially as it the directorial debut of Tess’ son Josh Gerritsen. Whether he will make it as big in cinema as his mother did in novels is way too early to tell, but does this film get him off to a good start? Does he master making all things marine menacing, or is Gerritsen Jr. a locked-in landlubber?
It is not just Maine that Gerritsen and King have in common: one of the characters here is a novel writer too! Granted they are unlikely to be a 1:1 proxy of Gerritsen, since this character is a man called Titus (Matthew Wilkas: Gayby 2012, The Mummy 2017). He is just one of many characters whose subplots are all woven into the main thread of the story: Maggie (Laila Robins: Planes, Trains and Automobiles 1987, Eye in the Sky 2015) is a temp doctor fulfilling a temp term on the island; Sam (Adam Wade McLaughlin: Billions series, Vinyl 2016) is a marine biologist mourning his dead wife, who may have seen the threat coming; and Ruth (Anabel Graetz: Ida’s 85th 2014, Olive Kitteridge 2014) is one of many locals scared of what being cut off from the mainland will bring.
Despite the circumstances of the plot, the characters do not feel like stock bodies ready to be fed to whatever is in the sea. If anything, they feel more like authentic people because they have more than isolation to deal with, while the threat just happened to turn multiple personal dramas into one, unified story. Their drama and personal tales are carried out by some very solid performances, with even the briefest roles being either memorable (Paul Hodgson as ‘Yacht Man’) or having some meat to them (Thomas Ian Campbell: Halloween Special 2011, Killer Spacemen from Outer Planet X 2016.)
The camerawork is largely on the money too, and makes the most of the winter weather for its grim atmosphere. The film throws in a few nice aerial shots of the island and shoreline, but it has some odd turns, such as the scattershot editing during certain scenes. While the film likely was not breaking the bank with the budget, it does a fair job with what it has. So while Island Zero might not blow a cinema audience away, it should be perfectly-suited for TV or VOD audiences.
In fact, a TV movie feel applies to the special effects. They are not exactly bad, as they are horrifying enough, though they are composed of largely practical effects that fall a touch short of being totally convincing; yet they are used sparingly and to good effect. The same applies to the film’s threat, in that it does not show up except for a few hints here or there. This helps to keep up the tension and it works very well for the first two acts, but it is in the last act where things sadly start coming undone.
The film started off with a nice latter-day Jaws feeling, where the local community deals with something ominous in the water. This shows off the best of Tess Gerritsen’s character work, and it is where things maintain a nice, even pace. However, when the twists start coming in Island Zero does an about-face into territory akin to 1979’s Alien. That is not to say it suddenly turns into Sci-Fi but the tone shift feels both abrupt and off-putting, and the acting and editing falter; leaving the threat and flaws exposed. Though the action picks up, it comes at a high price!
This is ultimately a shame, as Island Zero starts off with great promise: it builds at a nice pace, has interesting characters who are performed well, along with an intriguing premise. Unfortunately, all these pieces come together in a sad climax, leaving Island Zero to lose the wind in its sails before it can cross the finish line. Curiosity seekers should stick to VOD, but it is on their own heads if they stick it out to the very end. So despite Island Zero‘s myriad of pluses, the best CrypticRock can give it is 2.5 out of 5 stars.