Island Zero opens with a truly heartbreaking scene that sets viewers up for more chillingly vicious scenes. There is something in the water, and it knows no mercy.
An isolated fishing town off the coast of Maine is faced with a sudden disappearance of lobsters and fish- the livelihood of the town. Fishermen are frustrated when they only seem to pull up jellyfish, and their resident biologist can’t make sense of the disappearance either. The town has an interesting cast of characters- there are the expected raucous fishermen with nagging wives, but also, a tortured biologist, a mysterious novelist, a naïve waitress- and who can forget the over-intelligent child asking for a heat camera on Christmas? The world of Island Zero is contained, almost suffocatingly small, and 40 miles away from the comforts of home with which we here on the continent have become so accustomed. Supplies from the mainland are the lifeblood of the entire island, shipped only by the daily ferry. There are only two reasons why the ferry would miss a day- bad weather, or mechanical difficulties. The locals in town assure themselves of this when the ferry misses its morning arrival. But when the phone lines are cut, and the last boat out returns without it’s captain, anxiety sets in. Several days go by with no ferry, and no sign from the mainland.
Movies like these make me anxious I’m still coastal. This movie is available on VOD now, so you’ll have to forgive me for diving into everything that scared the hell out of me in following paragraphs.
I was impressed by the actual biological aspect of this film. Island Zero saw the opportunity to exploit the very real facts of marine biology and discovery present on this Earth. As of this moment, we have explored only 5% of Earth’s oceans. As you might recall, the Earth is 70% covered in our oceans. The ocean is as deep as 7 miles- which may not seem like much, until you realize we haven’t been able to reach the deepest level. The extreme darkness, cold, and pressure at the bottom of our oceans make even the most advanced unmanned technology useless. Another thing to consider- Jupiter’s MOONS have deeper oceans than Earth (Europa’s is 62 miles deep). But back to Earth. Our favorite biologist Sam on the island tells us that the animals they’re encountering are similar to octopodes in that they can travel on land great lengths before needing to go back into the ocean. Let’s talk about the octopus. They’ve been known to eat smaller octopodes should mollusks and other food not be readily available. The general “squid/octopus/tentacled animal” classification is the cephalopod, and their interactions with humans very. Giant and colossal squids have tentacles with suckers capable of suction up to 100 pounds per square inch, with teeth at the end of their tentacles. They also have beaks, and all octopodes have venom- though few have venom fatal to humans. Nothing to worry about just yet though, so far the venomous Blue-Ringed Octopus has only killed an estimated 11 people on the coast of Australia (and we all know the terrors of Australian animals).
ANYWAYS. Octopodes being scary is nothing new, and the use of the octopus form in horror is also a well-established trope- H.P. Lovecraft, anyone? But Island Zero doesn’t bank purely on the terror of the unknown or the terror of the tentacles. Island Zero terrifies viewers in much the same way Jaws first terrified audiences with the possibility of shark attacks on idyllic beaches and theme parks. Shark attacks were nothing new, and it’s a fact that no great white has ever successfully been raised or captured to keep in captivity- but bringing these facts to life is the difference that will successfully keep me and any viewer up at night. With so much of the ocean unexplored, the discovery of an apex predator brought to light by climate change is an entirely possible scenario. The message of this movie is insistent then that this is not an incident specific to some isolated fishing town- this is an incident brought about by a very real threat that no one on the planet can get away from.
And how the hell this town got away from whatever these new cephalopods are, you’ll just have to see for yourself.
Director Josh Gerritson and Writer Tess Gerritson have worked together to create a spectacle of marine biology and indie horror so poignant, I wrote a research paper instead of a review. My research mostly consisted of “could an octopus kill me?” (a resounding YES from Google, by the way) But they can both pat themselves on the back for doing what few horror movies can incite in a viewer, much less a reviewer- the kind of terror that drives us to barricading the doors and crying to our parents.
If anyone comes away from this wanting to learn more, my research led me to some pretty odd places beyond what an octopus eats. Find out why we think aliens might look like cephalopods here, and that octopus wrestling exists here and here.
Island Zero is available nationwide on VOD.