Black Sea Blu-ray Review
The Hunt for Red Gold
Black Sea Film Review
Aiming for The Abyss meets The Descent, but falling slightly short, Kevin McDonald takes his talents at claustrophobic horror and applies them to this limited budget Jude Law-captained submarine heist thriller.When a team of retired – or made redundant – submariners take to the seas in search of Nazi gold buried at the bottom of the ocean, the problem may not be getting to the hidden treasure, but actually getting back to the surface alive. There’s plenty to enjoy in this relatively low budget underwater outing, filmed in a disused old sub, and afforded the same claustrophobic style and filmwork that MacDonald has used to such great effect in many earlier features. He’s got a good lead in Law who provides us a strong central character who is equal parts leader and renegade, desperately trying to hold onto his sanity. The supporting cast are also distinguished enough to give weight to the simmering imminent disaster.Whilst the tension is admirably well-maintained – and the limited claustrophobic setting used to its best effect – Black Sea never quite builds to a satisfying third act, often stretching plausibility even notwithstanding your desire to simply go with it, and struggling to make good on the promising premise and solid first half. Eventually it does all come together, but a little more character development and a little less in the random twist department, and this could have been a far more impressive indie thriller. Still, sub thrillers are a relatively rare commodity these days – and good ones even rarer – so we have to give credit to McDonald’s ability to deliver an effort in this sub-genre which is pretty consistently thrilling and thus pretty reliably effective.
Blu-ray Picture QualityBlack Sea comes to Region Free UK Blu-ray complete with a faithful representation of the limited budget source material which, for the most part, looks pretty damn good in its 1080p/AVC-encoded guise, framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen.
Stylistic choices notwithstanding, Black Sea's claustrophobic underwater setting shines on this Blu-ray release.
Detail is generally very good, with some striking close-ups which reveal worn skin textures with all their intricacies and revel in the weathered antique sub setting. The colour scheme remains reasonably well-balanced, with natural skin tones and a few vibrant pops – including the red lighting that takes over when they go on alert – amidst the otherwise darkened, grimy, weary setting. Black levels are strong, for the most part, with decent shadow detail almost imperceptibly giving way to the slightest of digital blemishes.
Indeed infinitely more problematic are the intentional stylistic choices, which leave some early shots plagued by haloing and ringing, and out-of-focus characters blurring their way across the screen. You can just about tell that it was designed to look that way, but it doesn’t make it look particularly artistic, if that was the intention. Thankfully things settle down for the bulk of the runtime – everything sub-based looks far more impressive. It’ll never win any awards, but it’s a solid presentation for this small-scale sub flick.
Blu-ray Sound QualityOn the aural front, the accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is pretty solid too, crafting a claustrophobic environment within which the tense situation can escalate. Whilst dialogue remains an important factor, and is clearly disseminated largely from across the frontal array, it’s the effects that really make an impact here.
Although not exactly a demo disc, the video and audio remain solid and faithful to the release.
Perhaps not quite so impressive is the score, which feels quite generic and repetitive; although not doing too much damage along the way, it certainly doesn’t enhance the feature, however it does give the audio track more material to play with. The effects, though, truly draw you into this metal coffin, with every creaking plate and pressurised valve ratcheting up the tension. Not quite demo material, there’s still plenty to enjoy here.
Blu-ray ExtrasBasically one extra – because it’s hard to count the 5 minute extended promo that also adorns the disc – the director’s commentary from Kevin MacDonald does a good job at offering up both background into the story and characterisations, and also the production itself. As a result it does a commendable job at making up for the lack of other supplemental material.
Black Sea Blu-ray VerdictAt its best, Black Sea offers up that same Descent-esque vibe as the increasingly desperate crew, trapped below the surface, try to innovate their way out of a succession of disasters, all the while having to second-guess one another as to the true motivations behind each others’ actions. McDonald’s got a keen eye for observing the primal self-preservation gene within his characters, which kicks in when put in exceptional circumstances of extreme danger, and it’s nice to see him back playing in the field that he does best in.
It may only tangentially remind us of The Abyss through its claustrophobic setting and paranoia-fuelled tensions, but at least McDonald’s latest is more The Descent than it is Doomsday.
Solid video and audio adorn a decent disc, which also sports a strong audio commentary from the director, and fans of sub thrillers, or Kevin MacDonald’s work, should give it a shot. Don’t expect The Hunt for Red October, but expect it to make you want to go right out and watch that straight after.
You can buy Black Sea on Blu-ray here
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