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Dead Calm

Dead Calm Movie Poster

Warner Brothers, VHS, DVD, 1989, Rated R, 1 hr. 31 min.

This is one of my all-time favorite movies.  This movie captured me from the opening sequence through to the end.  I remember first seeing it in 1989 and being completely absorbed.  I have watched it numerous times since then on television broadcasts and I have not tired of it.  

The movie opens with Rae Ingram (Nicole Kidman) and her small child in the car on the way to pick up her husband John (Sam Neill), a Navel Officer who is returning home after being away at sea.  It is a dark and rainy night and Rae loses control of her car.  The child dies in the accident and Rae cannot cope with the loss.  Hoping to help Rae mentally heal, the couple set sail on their yacht for some alone-time and recuperation.   While in the middle of the sea, they encounter another boat that is in bad shape and in which only one passengers is alive, Hughie Warriner  (Billy Zane).  Hughie takes shelter on the Ingram's yacht and proceeds to terrorize the couple. 

From the start of the film there is a feeling of stark desolation and suspense.  Nearly all of the movie takes place on the Ingram's yacht, and the expanse of water with absolutely nothing else around makes what happens to the Ingram's all the more terrifying.  You know that help is not coming and no one can hear them scream.

Neil, Kidman and Zane are the only characters in the film for more than 95 percent of the time.  To sustain viewer interest with only three characters requires not only excellent writing, but the casting of  captivating actors - accomplishments in which this film more than succeeds.

Neil, Kidman and Zane give intense, mesmerizing performances.  As one catastrophe after another befalls them, it could turn the movie into a farce, but the writing is not overboard, and the performances are perfectly played.  

The movie was beautifully filmed, in a simplistic, but engaging way.  The use of extreme close-ups adds to the tension of the film and wonderfully displays the actors' emotions.    

Neil is wonderful as the supportive and strong husband.  He has real chemistry with Kidman and shows a deep emotional range.

Zane is superb as a lunatic, and the emotion and intensity with which he plays Hughie made me feel empathy for an unredeeming character.  

The movie comes full circle for Rae.  She goes from a woman falling apart to a woman that takes charge.  Kidman masterfully shows Rae's growth and determination, while still displaying her vulnerability.  The interplay between Kidman and Zane is intense and fascinating to watch.

The film is based on a 1963 novel by Charles Williams.

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Warner Brothers






96 Minutes







Actor / Actress


Sam Neill

John Ingram

Nicole Kidman

Rae Ingram

Billy Zane

Hughie Warriner



Phillip Noyce


Tony Wellington

Assistant Director

Terry Hayes


Dean Semler

Director of Photography

Geoff Burton

Director of Photography

Reviewed by: Hauntmistress 9/07/2002


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