The film ‘dead calm is a dramatic thriller starring Nicole Kidman, Sam Neil, and Billy Zane. It was filmed in 1988 and directed by Australian film maker Phillip Noyce. The director uses various camera angles, sound effects and visual aids to create fear and suspense in this film. Throughout the film there are constant feelings of isolation and helplessness in the vast open ocean, which creates a great sense of suspense and definitely keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat. Surprisingly the film maintains an air of suspense and terror although there are only three central characters in the main body of the film.
The film started with John Ingram, and officer in the Australian navy, coming hone for the Christmas holidays only to find that both Rae, his wife, and his 4 year old son Danny have been in a car accident, which resulted in Danny dying on impact, and Rae being seriously injured. With Rae needing a lot of rest and medical treatment, the couple decided to take a sea cruise on their yacht, the ‘Saracen’. Little did they know that this cruise would ultimately almost cost them both their lives.
Picking up a stranger named ‘Hughie’ rowing alone on the vast ocean, the Ingram’s (Nicole Kidman, Sam Neil) give the man water and a place to stay until they can sail to shore on their yacht. The stranger, Hughie Warriner (Billy Zane) tells the Ingram’s this story about him being the only survivor on the ‘Orpheus’, after the other four people he was travelling with died from food poisoning. The couple immediately see him as an unbalanced stranger with less than good intentions, but this does not seem to affect their decision to keep him on the boat.
Later when Hughie is asleep below deck in a bunk room john decides to row out to the Orpheus by himself to see if there is infact anyone else on the ship, and to see if the story Hughie has told them is true. Once on the ship john discovers that the four women Hughie was travelling with, have been murdered, most probably by him. John, now terrified that he had left Rae alone with only their dog to protect her from this dangerous mass murderer, begins to panic and this increases the tension in the film. Rowing back as fast as he can, John tries to jump onto the yacht but misses and ends up injuring his shoulder on the yachts propellers.
The yacht then takes off into the open sea with Rae alone at the mercy of the psychotic Hughie. John rows back to the Orpheus and tries to signal help by trying to fix the radio, meanwhile on the yacht there is a terrifying cat and mouse game being played between Rae and Hughie in the middle of the vast open ocean. In this film, Rae always seemed to get away and have the upper hand when it came to fighting off the dangerous Hughie. Yet she never manages, or wants, to kill him even though he is a mass murderer who would not think twice before killing her.
The way that the director, Phillip Noyce, uses colours in the film is so striking that at certain points you stop concentrating on the plot of the film and just sit back and admire the scenery. Phillip Noyce also incorporates the use of heavy breathing as a frightening technique, and even the films theme tune has heavy breathing mixed into the music to create a frightening air of suspense. The director uses many different colours in the film to ass effect and create tension. Right at the beginning of the film, when the title comes up onto the screen, it is coloured red.
Although the title ‘dead calm’ implies that the film may be peaceful and serene, the colour of the words seems to contradict this. The powerful and predominant use of red and blue, in the water and blood, give dead calm a French feel to it. The red of Kidman’s lips and hair, the ocean blue of her eyes and the rosy pink of her cheeks give her a snow white quality, which also seems to make her more vulnerable. When john (Neil) falls into the water and starts to bleed, this signifies danger is imminent, and the strong visual effect of the blood gradually spreading through the water has a definite impact.