Ahh! It’s lethal! It’s deadly! It’s something nasty and monstrous from that past that never should have survived this long! It will pollute the water of all it comes into contact with! It’s the movie Piranha! Not the toothy fish, no: the movie itself.
Movies made in the past were done so in a different time with different standards. What was commonplace then can rankle against modern sensibilities but be taken within their own context.
Movies are in a time bubble and represent a snapshot of how things were. So then, is it fair to criticise the rampant misogyny that burped up Piranha considering it was released way back in…*checks notes*…2010?!
What Is Piranha About?
Piranha 3D (as it was originally titled due to some in-yer-face 3D work) is a remake of the 1978 comedy horror Piranha, which rode the post-Jaws wave of popularity to poke fun at its great white forebear and earn a shoal of fans.
Piranha 3D trotted out the usual ‘update with a modern twist’ mantra before somehow misreading its own memo and setting gender politics back 50 years.
It’s spring break in Lake Victoria, Arizona. It’s a time for teens to drink, party, splash around, and provide some much-needed income to the town.
Thanks to an admittedly amusing opening scene in which ancient piranha escape a buried prehistoric lake and then immediately chomp down on Jaws actor Richard Dreyfuss, the water is filled with lethal marauding fish.
More is preying on the local teens than just razor-sharp piscine peril. Jake (Steven R. McQueen) ditches his two younger siblings to be a guide across the lake for sleazy Derrick (Jerry O’Connell), who is slobbering to film all the naked bodies he can (principally glamour model Kelly Brook and adult actress Riley Steele).
Yet his crush, Kelly (Jessica Szohr), also boards the boat, whilst his siblings aren’t as safe as Jake left them.
Is Piranha Worth Watching?
Blood, gore, and nudity are all standard ingredients that go into the mix of most B-movies. None get you disqualified, nor a free pass of ‘the movie is what it sets out to be’ because all movies hang on the script.
Piranha has a script as written by a teenage boy who learned everything he knows about women from porn.
The dialogue is appallingly bad. So bad that even pornographic movies would shy away from such sweaty dribbling tripe.
When Jake’s little sister says to Kelly Brook’s character, “I like your boobs,” it’s weird but only the tip of the iceberg. Jerry O’Connell’s character isn’t so much a character as an embodiment of every foul attitude towards women you could think of.
Sure, we are supposed to hate him, but whenever he speaks, director Alexandre Aja’s movie revels in the same breasts and blood in the very next breath.
These things can be done well. Teenage gross-out comedies like American Pie walked that tightrope by making it clear we were dealing with stupid horny teens and by giving the women even a little agency. Piranha gives women nothing.
In Piranha, women exist purely to be stripped, ogled at, and dispatched in increasingly nasty ways. Nasty deaths are an essential ingredient of a good B-movie, but when they are deployed with such woman-hating vitriol (few men get torn apart on screen) the attitude is more repulsive than the gore effects.
Not even Elisabeth Shue (The Karate Kid) as the town Sheriff/bog standard ‘Mom’ mode can wrestle the camera away from all the yuk, where the mutilation is less yuk than the sea of naked women to do it to.
The original Swedish title of the novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was The Men Who Hate Women. That book and movie were a treatise on the power men exert and how it reflects the poison in their minds.
Piranha hates women in a far more insidious way. It hides behind ‘fun’ and smacks you on the ass whilst hollering, “It’s just a joke!” to deflect your attention from where its other hand is going.
Words by Mike Record