Release year: 1989
Director: Phillip Noyce
Screenwriter: Terry Hayes, Charles Williams (novel)
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sam Neill, Billy Zane, Rod Mullinar, Joshua Tilden, George Shevtsov, Michael Long, Lisa Collins, Sharon Cook
Sailing around in the Pacific, Rae (Nicole Kidman) and her husband John (Sam Neill) isolate themselves to recover from a great tragedy. When they one day come across a sole survivor from a sinking ship they invite the man, Hughie (Billy Zane) on board. It turns out to be a big mistake.
Australian movie Dead Calm is almost a perfect recipe for a great thriller: few characters isolated, a tense situation. And tense it is. At times Dead Calm is almost unbearable to watch as Rae and John struggle to get out of the predicament they have found themselves in, merely by being good citizens. Helped strongly by the effective soundtrack by Graeme Revell, his first before moving on to composing soundtracks for movies like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), Pitch Black (2000) and Sin City (2005). His score is unnerving and builds up a suspenseful atmosphere from the beginning. The movie is an adaptation of the 1963 novel by Williams but much have been changed in the movie. The set-up of a woman trapped on a boat with a psychopath remains and is definitely the strongest element of the movie. It is at times hard to watch the struggles Rae must endure and Kidman (The Others, 2001) has no trouble adding the humanity to her character that makes us root for her survival all the way through. The movie were her US debut and had her instantly recognized due to her strong performance. Neill (Jurassic Park, 1993) delivers a measured performances, giving the impression of a capable man never giving up while Zane (Titanic, 1997), at the time virtual an unknown, manage to make Hughie intimidating with a real sense of danger. With its small cast, the success of the thriller relies heavily on the three actors, but luckily they pull through and Dead Calm is a genuinely tense watch that keeps you at the edge of your seat.
Before filming began, Nicole Kidman took lessons from the owner of the Storm Vogel (the yacht used as ‘Saracen’) on how to operate the ship. During the storm sequences near the end of the film, she is actually piloting the yacht.
Picture copyrights: Warner Home Video