Tiny Jaws: Is Piranha Parody or Just Inept?

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(This week’s post is a generous contribution from the inimitable Brent Williams, my movie-watching partner. Go follow him on Twitter @twelvepointfont in anticipation of the day he actually uses it. -Sarah the Squeam Queen)

I find myself conflicted on what to say about Piranha. Wikipedia tells me that it me that it was a parody of Jaws, but It never felt self-aware enough for me to think of it as a Parody. I laughed at it in much the same way I would laugh at a Parody. There were over-the-top characters and a situation not entirely dissimilar to Jaws, but I never felt that Jaws was the subject of this movie. Piranha definitely felt like its own bit of camp.

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Not that kind of camp

The movie starts with the customary expendable teenage couple breaking into an abandoned military facility, much as we all have done once or twice in our youth. The pair then proceeds to swim in what is questionably water. The boyfriend waits until they’re already swimming in the green liquid to raise the idea that it may be sewage. This being a monster movie about piranhas, you can probably guess how the rest of the scene goes.

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They die, and give our female protagonist (who is good at finding people and wants to find the aforementioned couple for reasons I’m too lazy to look up) a reason to head into the mountains near the abandoned military facility and stumble upon a our male protagonist, named Paul.

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Paul is an unreliable drunk, but Maggie, the female protagonist I mentioned earlier, knows that he is just the man to help her find the missing couple. As it turns out, Maggie is right, and Paul’s alcoholism is never an issue. Paul is one of the most capable characters in the movie. He has shared custody of his daughter, and by the end of the movie, he saves a lot of lives. The early scenes establishing him as a drunk only really serve to justify the fact that some people are assholes toward Paul.

Maggie and Paul arrive at the abandoned military facility and find a lab filled with tanks of mutant fish. There’s a claymated mutant thing watching them from the corners that you surely think will be reincorporated or at least be some sort of variation of the movie’s main monsters, but no. The piranhas of this movie are just silhouettes of normal piranhas. Clearly, there is something more interesting going on in this lab, and I want to see that movie.

Paul (or maybe Maggie) hits a lever to drain the green water from the pool where the teenagers were eaten. Seeing this, a man attacks. He’s subdued and we learn that he is a scientist. This a very interesting character, because we learn that he’s just been fucking around with mutant Piranha all by himself ever since the Vietnam War ended. He’s made them more and more dangerous without any real reason for doing so. Also, he’s put these unnecessarily deadly fish in a pool that drains to the river. So, now the piranha are free and headed downriver toward the camp where Paul’s daughter is. Paul, Maggie and the scientist set off down the river on a raft to warn people about the Piranhas. For some reason, all non-piranha-infested means of transportation aren’t an option. Calling ahead to the camp fails because the head counselor is one of those assholes I mentioned earlier.

Paul’s friend Jack lives downriver, and we see him on the edge of his dock with his feet in the water, drunk and telling jokes to his dog. When The Piranhas attack him, he screams and screams, but makes no effort to pull his feet from the water. When Paul, Maggie and the scientist (a new band name I’m considering) find him, he’s dragged himself from the water, but he’s dead, and there’s nothing but bone where his lower legs once were. This kind of horrifying power is never seen again.

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Shortly after finding Jack, the scientist throws himself in the water to pull a kid off of a capsized canoe being attacked by piranhas. Honestly, when I saw what the scientist was doing, I thought that he was trying to kill himself and the kid. Those same piranhas stripped Jack’s leg of flesh in the time it took him to lift them from the water, but the scientist manages to swim thirty feet and drag himself and the kid through the water and onto the raft. He does die, but the kid doesn’t seem to get a scratch on him.

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Kids must be invincible in this universe in the same way they are in Skyrim, because when the fish do eventually get to the camp (which happens after some nonsense with the military and a dam), the kids spend five minutes flopping around five feet from the shore without much injury to any of them. The only casualty from the attack is a camp counselor who is somehow pulled underwater by tiny fish.

Things work out fine for the kids, but Maggie and Paul soon have to save a resort, because the owner is the type of idiotic movie villain who ignores the monster until it’s too late. Maggie and Paul arrive as the resort is being attacked. 

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Having no real way to help, they steal a speed boat to see if they can go downriver to the old coal mill to dump the leftover chemicals into the river and kill the piranhas before they reach the ocean and spread to other rivers. And that’s what they do. They save the world by polluting.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie. It’s good for a laugh. It’s the type of campy fun I like to find on Netflix (or whatever video streaming service decides to sponsor Sarah’s blog).

Special thanks to my photo editor.

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