By: Hawk Ripjaw (Two Beers) –
On a secluded island off the coast of Maine, a small group of residents don’t have much to do besides gossip in the diner and wait for the daily ferry to arrive. The ferry brings essentially food and supplies to the island as well as workers and visitors back and forth. Recently the supplies have become more important, as the fish have become scarce. Marine biologist Sam (Adam Wade McLaughlin) has been investigating the sudden drop in fish population, and believes it may be tied to something his late wife was working on. Before her sudden disappearance at sea four years ago, Sam’s wife had been exploring the source of a similar decline in the fishery and had attributed it to an apex predator. Now that the same problem has arrived at Islesboro, the still-mourning Sam is determined to find answers.
The ferry is missing for several consecutive days. As doctor Maggie (Laila Robins), author Titus (Matthew Wilkas), Sam’s daughter Ellie (Elaine Landry), and other temporary visitors of the island become restless, bodies begin to turn up on the shoreline. Something is hunting them, and they’re trapped on the island with resources beginning to run out.
Island Zero almost immediately checks off some very satisfying boxes: after the opening sequence, the island on which the film takes place (filmed in Maine) gives off strong Twin Peaks vibes with its offbeat characters and, of course, a diner with enough warm coffee for everyone. In the second half, the movie most strongly evokes some of the work of John Carpenter (a la The Thing), some Hitchcock, and maybe a bit of Steven Spielberg. None of this feels derivative, but instead functions as a bit of comfortable familiarity while still feeling fresh. It’s clear that writer Tess Gerritsen and her son, director Josh Gerritsen, have a great deal of love for the creature features of the 80s and it makes their film easy to like. The excellent synth score from Clayton Worbeck certainly doesn’t hurt.
The movie deftly balances each of the main characters in the opening act. Each of them are given enough to do to make them interesting and make the possibility of their eventual death impactful, without making the movie feel overstuffed or aimless. It’s also delightfully unpredictable. The order and methods in which some characters are killed is surprising and unexpected: certain characters are killed sooner than one might expect, and it adds an extra layer of entertaining danger once the stakes are violently revealed thanks to some very fun gore effects.
Island Zero is a debut movie made on a shoestring budget partially with the involvement of volunteer extras in Maine, and some of that shows in the occasional missteps in line delivery and editing. But none of it feels like negligence or even ignorance. Island Zero is a fun idea realized with very little money. It creatively works around its limitations in ways that feel organic to the story and clever on the parts of the creators.
About a half hour into the story, society begins to break down as the absence of the ferry and its supplies lead to shortages on the island. Tensions rise between the residents, but this progression isn’t as smooth and impactful as it could have been, mainly because of a couple of time jumps made at points where it would have been just as compelling to see the events play out. After these odd initial jumps, the movie settles into a more comfortable rhythm in regards to the dwindling resources and the survival aspect feels a lot more impactful, but the character interactions still don’t quite feel like they reach their full potential given how cleverly they’re sketched out in the first act.
Eventually, the limitations of Island Zero’s resources barely hamstring the promise of the back half (and particularly the finale). Neither the 80s flavor nor the Christmas setting are fully explored and it holds the movie back from being a new mainstay of either subgenre.
In spite of that, Island Zero does quite a lot with very little. It creatively overcomes budget constraints. It satisfyingly wears its heart on its sleeve regarding its love for 80s creature features. The writing is sharp, delivering pulp without camp. The direction is not only solid, but suggests that Gerritsen has a strong future as his budgets ramp up. It’s a fun, thrilling creature feature and a good reason to be excited for what the Gerritsen team delivers next.
You can watch Island Zero on VOD from Donkey Universe Films on Tuesday, May 15th.
Island Zero (2018) Movie Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every time someone says “ferry” or “diesel” or “fish”
Take a Drink: whenever Ellie acts wise beyond her years
Do a Shot: for every death