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Swarm of the Snakehead Movie Review

Written by Miloš Jovanović

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Directed by Frank Lama and Joel Denning
Written by Seth Hurwitz
2006, 95 minutes, Not rated

Jamie Linck O'Brien as Ashley Emerson
Lisa Burdette as Mayor Janice Appleyard
Joel Denning as William Emerson
Frank Lama as Darrel Delhey
Kimberly Mallory as Sandy Redhook

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Fresh off a divorce, William Everson returns to his hometown of Barrow Springs, MD, dragging his three daughters along. Little does he know that Barrow Springs is not only his hometown, but an awfully dangerous breed of snakehead fish makes this picturesque little city its natural habitat as well — and is thirsty for some blood. Turns out the snakehead was a remnant of a long-forgotten US army experiment from the '60s. Initially, it was happy to feed off local cats and dogs, but now it craves human flesh as well. Can the locals, reinforced by the legendary "manly fisherman" Darrel Delhey, survive the onslaught?

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Inspired by the real-life occurrence from 2002, in which a breed of northern snakehead was found in Crofton, Maryland, Swarm of the Snakehead is a fun little horror-comedy indie, perfectly happy posing for what it really is: a shoddy, entertaining piece of trash... and I mean this as a compliment. It's an enjoyable ride of 90-odd minutes, with no hidden subtexts or delusions of grandeur. Directorial tandem Frank Lama/Joel Denning (both co-helmers enjoying their behind-the-camera debut) play it straight from the word go, opting for a direct, gross-out-gag approach rather than try to build a lot of mystique out of nothing.

The story — "inspired by real events" — is simple enough, and Lama and Denning, along with the screenwriter Seth Hurwitz, present it fragmented in several pieces bound to lead characters. There is William Everson with his daughters, one of which is having a fling with a local boy. There's the corrupt city mayor Janice Appleyard (a great performance by Lisa Burdette), and her playing cover-up for most of the film. And then there's the "manly fisherman" (Christ, what a moniker) Darrel Delhey, who arrives at the scene on a top-secret mission to unearth the mystery of the "Barrow Springs Monster". In this aspect, the film build somewhat resembles John Carpenter's The Fog, which also featured a similar narrative with multiple characters being unknowingly related to one larger issue. The issue in this film — the snakehead invasion — begins in earnest somewhere around the 60-minute mark, when, quite literally, all hell turns loose and the fish declare war on the hapless locals.

The direction is not as bad as you would expect from a first-time indie helmer. Lama, after all, is a man with decent genre/scene experience, as he already featured in several independent horror productions, most notably Kevin Kangas' Fear of Clowns series. He and Denning handle the camera pretty adequately for first timers, and as it's often so much important, they opt for simple rather than sweeping. Also, Swarm was shot on 16mm film and it looks noticeably "grainy", which adds to the overall feeling. Kudos to the production crew for bypassing DV, which quite often degrades the experience for me if mishandled.

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Acting is above par for the genre. There are many principle characters involved and all do their job in good fashion, but if I'd have to single someone out, the plaudits would fall on Lisa Burdette and Frank Lama. Burdette (who is, if I might add, quite a good looking lady) finds the right balance between acting and playground hysterics and makes her mayor character just fit enough for the movie, while Lama is nothing short of hilarious as the smarmy TV fisherman Delhey, who looks and acts like an offspring from a Bruce Campbell/Jim Carrey one night stand. Now I've seen Lama before, and I didn't think much of his part in Fear of Clowns, but here he seems more "himself" and embraces the Delhey persona fully. Also, Texas Chain Saw Massacre hero Gunnar Hansen makes an amusing cameo midway through the film, in a scene which is a tribute of sort to Spielberg's Jaws.

Another high point of the film is its soundtrack, which consists of a bunch of rock songs performed by the local artists, enriched by some has-been celebrities (such as *gasp* Kip Winger !). The special effects — namely the snakeheads — are atrociously bad, and some scenes cause high unintentional comedy (water towers with "US Army" photoshopped on them are just fantastic for laughs), but this was more than likely done intentionally to amp up the B-movie experience. Also, dialogue veers in and out of sync throughout the film — if this was intentional, I can't tell.

Overall, Swam of the Snakehead is an unpretentious hour and a half of fun, and should satisfy genre fans, as well as some casual viewers. Worth a rental at least.

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Movie: Threestars
Video: n/a
Audio: n/a
Features: n/a
Overall: Threestars

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