Ah, New England islands. They’re cold. They’re foggy. They’re full of townsfolk willing to off each other at the first sign of trouble as well as killer critters, ghost pirates, and whatever other nasties can hide out in or on the water to come after you. They’re my reference point for what life is like for just about everybody east of New York state.
Island Zero takes place on one of these islands, off the coast of Maine. Basically it’s 40 miles to the mainland in an archipelago and a week out from Christmas. One day the ferry doesn’t arrive. Then the internet cuts out. Then electricity goes. No boats arrive, and on the few that get prepped, the fishermen disappear, only leaving behind pools of blood. And then the food starts to run out, and the fuel. That’s the first 40 minutes of this movie.
Well, it’s minutes 5-45. The first five involve an annoying British drunk guy drinking and playing with his dog, which is inevitably killed horribly off screen. This is both unnecessary and the worst scene in the film; it’s kind of nice to get it over with early, because while I have problems with later scenes, the movie never gets this bad again. Needless to say, once the crap is over, the best part of this movie gets going, and it is marvelous. Residents are scared, relationships crumble, and characters are fleshed out in a way that makes them likable and realistic. There is a mystery here, and as the world seems further and further away, the isolation of the island creeps in and almost becomes its own lonely character.
Now I’m going to spoil the rest of this movie for you: it’s about fish monsters. There, that bandage is ripped off. This is where the movie once again started to lose me; amphibious, aquatic, cold-blooded, invisible super-predators are revealed to be the problem, and what went from some incredible potential turns into a bad monster movie with a low budget. And yet, once the initial bad CG of the killer tentacle critters on thermal cameras is gotten past, the movie becomes freaky again. Why? Because these guys are invisible to the naked eye, and they latch on and eviscerate people right in front of each other. Or they strip the flesh from their bones, disembowel folks, or leave their blood and organs just lying on the beach for folks to find. Island Zero, you lose me, you win me back, you lose me, and you win me back. Is this what it’s like to travel to one of these islands, go stir crazy, then leave and long for the solitude of the island again?
And then you lose me again. The military knows. The island is cut off as a testing ground while the army tries to make contact with an intelligent, aquatic species. And now I’m annoyed again, because it’s back to being a bland “The army is evil” horror movie. I’ve seen it. I know this plotline. It’s not new, it’s not interesting, and frankly, it’s more than a little tiring. It’s too easy.
And then, as the people fight off the invisible monsters, and the military shows up to shoot the survivors, you have some escape on a boat, trying to row for 40 miles in the dark, all on the strength of a doctor who once lost her child and is now desperately trying to save another, and you end with her struggling mantra to keep going in mid-stroke. Damn it, Island Zero, you won me back again.
I love parts of this movie and hate others. I wish it was good throughout; when Island Zero is focusing on the suspense, the loneliness, and the unknown, it comes down to the characters, and they’re beautifully written and acted. There was care here, and it shows. But then it goes back into generic monster movie, and it falls flat on its face. Yet it picks itself back up and marches on.
Maybe you guys will find a more balanced appreciation for it, but it’s like waves for me. I’m not sure what to think or how I feel. I think that might be part of the movie’s beauty, and I so desperately want to adore it, because after that opener, the next hour was spectacular in how it grew a sense of dread and foreboding. I’m glad I watched it. I’m also sorry that everyone in Maine is probably gonna get eaten by a fish-man, but hey, New England was where Lovecraft called home. Of course y’all are gonna get eaten by fish-men.