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Aquarium

Review by: 
Blackgloves
Release Date: 
2004
Studio: 
Redemption
Genre: 
Horror
Format: 
DVD
Region: 
2 PAL
Aspect Ratio: 
N/A
Directed by: 
Frederic Grousset
Cast: 
Karen Bruere
Abel Divol
Capucine Mandeau
Movie: 
2
Extras: 
3
Bottom Line: 
2

The best material any new film director can look for, if he has only an ultra low budget to work with, is a high concept idea big enough to carry the burden of holding an audience's attention long enough for it to forget that it isn't getting the kind of cinematic 'bells and whistles' it's used to seeing adorn the big screen. Of course, the best and most original concepts then end up being plagiarised and rehashed ad infinitum, often by their own inventors (look at "Night of the Living Dead"!). But a brilliant, captivating idea can still be as big a selling point as any amount of up to the minute CGI or a bankable movie star. Perhaps the most recent example of this was effect evinced by "Saw"; which, as well as starting off the whole torture porn genre virtually single-handedly, also flirted with Hitchcock's idea that suspense could be generated from the most confined and inauspicious surroundings. In fact, "Saw" cleverly used flashbacks to get its characters outside their single, white-tiled room, but the interest of the film comes from the mystery and the suspense inherent in that apparently simple situation it initially sets up and then allows to play out in such a way as to draw from it the maximum amount of tension. French director Frederic Grousset has evidently seen "Saw"; and he appears to be very aware of Hitchcock's 'dictum' as well. The three Grousset films included on Salvation's DVD see most of their action take place in one room. In the main feature, "Aquarium", the characters wake up to find themselves held prisoner in a single, featureless whitewashed room; while both "Emergency Stop" and "Shit" take place almost entirely inside toilet cubicles!
 
The set up of "Aquarium" clearly derives from the first in the "Saw" franchise, but Grousset's film is so clearly of the DIY, no money, independent school, that even the kind of special make-up effects evident there are way beyond his ken. Instead, the film must invoke an audience's sense of mystery to keep people rooted to their seats: who kidnapped the six occupants of the white room? Why are they being held prisoner? How did they get there as there seems to be no door apart from  one that opens onto a solid brick wall!
 
In fact, the film soon reveals that it takes a great deal of inspiration from another recent high concept film — namely "Cube". The six characters wake to find themselves being monitored by miniature surveillance cameras. The only piece of furniture is a trestle table with some plates of rather unappetising gloopy food-stuffs on it. Soon the three men and three women are fighting among themselves as they try to make sense of the fate they share. A speaker booms out a monotone voice which informs them in clipped sentences, that they must take part in a series of compulsory "activities". Anyone refusing to comply will be executed. Whoever loses or comes last in each of the activities will also be executed. The final person remaining will be let go.
 
The rest of the film's concise, 65 minute running time is spent on detailing these activities and the characters' various responses to their predicament. These responses fall into the fairly predictable range of those who want to help each other to try and beat the system, and those who want to conform and thereby ensure their own survival. And that's one of the main problems with this film: despite the apparently strange premise, it is very predictable! In fact, the characters behave in pretty much the same way as the characters from the original  "Night of the Living Dead", displaying the same range of characteristics (perhaps all of these high concept ideas, in so far as they all rely on examining people under pressure, are all really just the same idea when you get right down to it) while the activities that they are required to compete in are hardly original, ranging from a game of "Simon Says" and several rounds of Russian roulette. There are long stretches where nothing much is going on at all. Rather than drawing out the tension, the effect is to give the impression that the director is just trying to pad out the already brief running time. Everything really hinges on who or what is really behind the set up; when the final survivor gets outside the white room, what will he/she find? The answer to this (by attempting to take the film into the realm of allegory) feels like a bit of a cheat — and not a very clever cheat at that. If you're anything like me, you will have easily guessed the film's big reveal as to who is behind the whole scam (or one of the people behind it, anyhow) and the allegorical nature of the film isn't too hard to anticipate either.
 
The other two film's on the disc are shorts. "Emergency Stop" is actually a rather taut little ten minute piece about a woman in a toilet cubicle who is convinced that there is a killer outside the door. The other film, is an unfunny five minute piece about a constipated man sitting on a toilet who finds there is no loo paper in the cubicle!
 
Salvation present all these films in non-anamorphic transfers which look rather grainy and washed out. Also, the subtitles carry over into the lower black band, meaning that one can't zoom the picture to fill a widescreen tv without losing the bottom line of the subtitles! A puported making of featurette turns out to be a brief film showing the main set — the white room — being constructed.

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