Starring: Rufus Sewell, Carla Gugino, Jim Piddock, Reno Wilson
Written by: Sebastian Gutierrez
Dir by: Sebastian Gutierrez
Partial Blurb (it's wordy): Angus and Lillie are travelling the Irish countryside with their carnival sideshow when they befriend a wealthy old sailor. After giving him a ride to his castle, he shows them his deadly prize: a real, live mermaid held captive in a tank. Eager for fame and fortune, Angus and his crew steal the sea creature and make plans to set sail for America.
My Blurbage: Yeah, that really is just a slight portion of the actual back of box blurb. It just goes on and on.
Also, as I decided to make this my next movie review because of the similarities I saw in "Night Tide's" story; although now that I think about it, I'm not sure just how similar they are. In that movie, the mermaid is a made-up tale, while in this one, the mermaid is very real. But, I did see a lot of echoes between the Captain in that movie and the old man who has captured this fantastic creature in this one.
This review will not only include the usual spoilers, but it may be difficult to include a screencap of the whole mermaid without including her bare breasts, so this review might contain partial nudity, and there will be blood, so this review is marked as "adult concepts".
Scene 01: We start with a black and white establishing shot of a mansion on a seaside beach. It looks very "House of Usher -- Corman version-esque".
We quickly jump inside, where we see an older woman walking with a lantern. She is a carrying a large machete and creeping toward a door at the end of a hallway. We're still in B&W territory, suggesting this is a flashback we're seeing.
Old Woman opens the door and creeps in, looking for something in the darkness. She notices water under her feet. Suddenly POV-Cam rushes from a corner toward her and the screen goes into red-vision. We get lots of screaming and very tight close ups of an eye wide in panic and horror, surrounded by blood on the face.
Commentary: Off to a wonderful start, eh? I want to also add here at the beginning that I really like the music in this movie, especially the mermaid theme.
Scene 02: We fade into the hear and now, at a side show carnival as we look over the tapestry that advertises the oddities on show. The travelling tent belongs to Angus Shaw.
Our focus is on an old man, who apparently drunkenly staggers into line after gazing intently at the mermaid on the tapestry.
Scene 03: Within the tent, Angus gives the usual shill about things they're about to see are so shocking that anyone with a weak heart should ask for a refund and leave immediately. We're in the year of 1905, somewhere in Ireland.
The Old Man sips from his flask, as Angus goes on in preparation for the first display... a zombie... this would be a voodoo-type zombie, not a rotting corpse type zombie.
After a spiel designed to amp the fear in the audience, the zombie is marched out in heavy chains. Angus fearfully allows the zombie to approach him, trying to remind the shambler that he is a friend. In the back of the tent however, a drunken gentleman isn't buying the whole thing and makes a rukus that their all being played for fools. Angus tries to tell the man that they'll return his money, if he'd just wait quietly at the back of the tent, but nothing doing.
The noise upsets the zombie who breaks his chains. It grabs one of the rifles from one of its armed guards and snaps it in half for the crowd. Angus pleads for mercy as the zombie closes in on him.
But suddenly from another tent their interrupted by high pitched warbling. The zombie is summoned to the sounds of singing with the rapt crowd following and is led to a tank with a "merwoman" in it, which appears to be in a tank lacking water and dressed in a cheap costume. This calms the zombie enough that he's re-chained and led away with Angus exhaustively telling everyone to be escorted away for the night.
The old man hangs behind, but he's also finally told that it is time to leave, which he does so with tears in his eyes.
Drunken Loud Guy returns to the mermaid tent, where he knocks on the glass and lets mermaid know the coast is clear. She immediately drops the mermaid thing, even as the singing, obviously a recording, goes onward. The whole thing really was a tacky, sideshow trick.
Scene 04: A short time later, Angus and drunken loud guy (also part of the show, of course) count out the receipts for the night. Zombie guy complains that he can't come out with the rest of the crew for a drink, because Angus doesn't want the illusion shattered to any of the locals. Angus tells him "Welcome to show business, Kid".
Scene 05: In her dressing room, the mermaid is sitting before her mirror out of costuming now. Angus comes in and they share dialog which tells us a few things. One - he and Lillie are an item. Two - he's been following Ringling Bros. circus in the U.S. quite closely and they are his model for the future.
They share a nightcap together.
Scene 06: Lillie comes out of her dressing room, only to stop short at an unexpected visitor. It is the old man, who seems quite shaken by the fact that she isn't a true mermaid.
Old Man yells at her that she's a fake, but she prefers actress. Either way, he's distraught beyond what one would expect and breaks down into drunken sobs. The Old Man pulls himself together and apologizes for his behavior. Lillie, much to Angus' dismay, offers the drunken, old man a ride home in their carriage.
Scene 07: At the large mansion on the coast, the Old Man in somewhat better spirits now, invites them in. He has them join him for a drink and there is uncomfortable conversation.
Angus sees the Old Man of the Sea ready to spin a yarn, and tries to get he and Lillie out of it by being on their way... but too late. That would be rude, so they're sort of stuck listening to the Old Man's tale of the mermaid, believing it to be nothing more than that, of course.
Angus looks at this watch and the Old Man realizes that he's boring them with his stories.
Scene 08: In the foyer, Lillie gives him a gentle smile and tells him she believes his tales. He decides that he has to show them one more thing before leaving, to Lillie's look of "damn it, that's what I get...".
Scene 09: They're led to the room from the beginning in which Old Woman was killed. There, they see an illusion far better than Lillie's ... a full body mermaid with an actual tail in an actual tank of actual water.
Lillie questions the chains, and Old Man explains that she had broken the glass several times. He explicates that he had to build the cage around the tank. Angus presses him to reveal how the illusion is being carried out, but the Old Man explains that she murdered his wife.
As Lillie stares at the mermaid, she pulls her head from the water and speaks in a whispery, foreign language... Lillie seems almost mesmerized for several moments....
Commentary: The mermaid effects are a highlight of this film with the tale, being absolutely huge and elaborate. In addition, the use of show motion around the mermaid and the odd acting of Rya Kihlstedt really sells that there is something supernatural surrounding this creature beyond the costuming. I really like the effects of this one (and since it's Stan Winston's creation, that isn't a shock) and we see a lot of the mermaid throughout, so the illusion really needed to be held up. I think it succeeds.
Scene 10: Lillie and Angus are escorted out, with Angus making a stab at a con about delivering the mermaid to a scientific institute on behalf of the Old Man. He refuses.
Commentary: I also absolutely love Aubrey Morris as the Old Sea Captain. His line delivery is wonderful, especially the delicious "I'm not much of a sleeper, Sir. Not anymore." The opening to get to the actual mermaid is over 10 minutes long, so it can seem to drag a bit as we want to get to the main story, but Mr. Morris' acting and voice do much to keep us engaged. He's wonderful.
Scene 11: Later that evening, Angus and Lillie talk about what they've seen and though Lillie is ready to let the whole thing go and be on with their next circus date, it is obvious that Angus is more driven to have the mermaid for showing.
Scene 12: Sometime in the wee hours, he gathers up the gentleman playing the zombie and the gentleman playing the drunk rabble-rouser and they return to the old man's home. Our zombie's name is Bailey. Drunken Instigator is Gifford.
Bailey breaks them in.
In her tank the mermaid floats listlessly [And that water looks pretty rank].
Scene 13: Angus and Gifford walk into the tank room, where the mermaid stirs and presses herself against the tank. But as they're staring in wonderment at her, the Old Sea Captain, suddenly cocks a gun under Angus' chin. He told him he warned him that evening that he isn't much of a sleeper anymore.
Angus tries to flimflam his way out of his sudden problem, but the Old Sea Captain is very clearly unhinged.
Commentary: I especially like Mr. Morris' mention that he stares at the Creature day and night and night and day and it is driving him insane. He tries to warn Angus that this would be his fate too, if he were to take her out on display. But, of course, Angus only has the promise of fame in his eyes. Rufus Sewell has an interesting and expressive face and I like him in this part and in another genre picture, Dark City. He does well when he's trying to fake being charming, as here.
Angus and Gifford's predicament is solved by Bailey who arrives with a shotgun. Unfortunately for the sensitive Bailey, his pointing a cocked shotgun at the Old Sea Captain and the realization that he's going to lose the mermaid to them causes the Captain to have a fatal coronary.
Angus immediately puts a plan in action to grab the mermaid, wrap up the travelling show and get the hell out of dodge before anyone discovers the Old Sea Captain's body. In the meanwhile, Bailey has a minor melt down over the fact that he's "going to Hell". The mermaid seems at first puzzled by what is happening, but when she spots Angus' dart rifle, she starts squeaking in a panicked anger. He shoots her in the tail, anyway, rendering her still.
Scene 14: We get a montage/voiceover of the mermaid being dragged out to their wagon, the old man being positioned at his dining table with his heart pills scattered about and Angus finding and stealing the Captain's logs of his finding the creature and his wife's own observations about the mermaid.
Scene 15: We fade cut to a pier, where Gifford is paying a captain and the crew loads up a large crate. One of the sailors will be Miles, who is played by Gil Bellows ... another actor on whom I had a slight crush and would love to see much more of.
Scene 16: Back at the camp, Angus is rushing Lillie to pack up so they can go. It becomes obvious that he's fed her a pack-o'-lies. His story is that the Old Sea Captain and he came to an agreement to purchase the mermaid, after all. To Lillie's fear about the mermaid killing the Captain's wife, he says the Old Sea Captain had changed his story after they'd spoken some more.
Lillie tries to tell him about the bad feelings she has about this, but he blows this off.
Commentary: Angus has an amusing quirk where he seems to purposely mishear what people are saying if he doesn't want to hear it. When Bailey cries that he's going to Hell, Angus tells him no one is going to jail. Bailey corrects him about what he said and Angus tells him he can't help him with that. Here, Lillie says she has a bad premonition and he tells her that "mixed feelings are good, they keep you on your toes". She also corrects him that she said "bad" and this time he doesn't respond to the correction at all.
Maybe it's just Rufus' delivery, but I find it amusing and charming even though it would probably be really irritating in a day to day kind of way to deal with it.
Scene 17: When Lillie comes aboard ship, she looks back at the shore, clearly not feeling right about this whole trip. She also passes Miles on deck and there is a "do I know her" look that passes over his face. She also glances back at him with a look of worry. Clearly there is a story between these two....
Scene 18: At dawn, the group has set sail and is on their way.
Commentary: And, this sailing vessel is beautiful. I know that ship travel was much slower then, and completely at the wind and tides mercy and wasn't nearly as durable as modern day materials... but oh, those ships were so gorgeous under full sail. It makes me wish I'd had an opportunity to be a passenger for a week's voyage on one (any longer than that though would probably be unpleasant... smelly men, buckets for toilets, scurvy being a menace, storms... no thanks).
Angus and Lillie stand on deck with she wrapped in his arms, but a shadow continues on Lillie's face.
Scene 19: That night, while Bailey is in the hold watching over the creature, Lillie crosses the deck smoking. Miles gives her the stink eye as she passes by.
Scene 20: Below decks, Bailey is trying to feed the mermaid, but she gets upset at sensing someone his the corridor beyond. When Bailey checks, it is Lillie trying to pretend to be casually passing by. The mermaid reacts to her seeing her and to keep her quiet, Bailey grabs Lillie and invites her in to see the fish-woman. Lillie again has a moment, where she seems in fascination with the mermaid, as the creature stares at her intently.
Scene 21: Later, Lillie and Angus are dining with the vessel's captain. After a bit of chitchat however, Lillie excuses herself feeling ill. Angus mentions motion sickness and the Captain tells him most women react in the same way, but mentions that if she were with child, that could cause her nausea.
Angus makes a vague disclaimer sounding like she may not be able to get pregnant.
The Captain turns conversation to the amount of time that Bailey spends down in the hold. He mentions to Angus that he has no objections to the black man mingling freely with the rest of the crew aboard his ship. Angus begs off that Bailey is just quite shy.
Scene 22: In the hold, Lillie brings Bailey a plate of food. She notes that the mermaid is looking much healthier than when they first brought her aboard. Bailey mentions that he can't tell her why, since she's refused any food since they delivered her onto the ship. Lillie offers to stay for a bit, so that Bailey can have a walkabout.
[And the timeline is a bit confused here - but it appears that she was either having breakfast with the Captain, or it is the following morning, as she says so to the mermaid.]
Lillie speaks to the creature, which seems to welcome her presence much more happily than Bailey's. As Lillie is speaking to her and musing on what the mermaid might be thinking about her situation, she uses her tail to stroke Lillie's face, startling a yelp from her and causing the creature to withdraw quickly.
Lillie tells her she's moving much quicker now, and interestingly - though unnoticed by Lillie herself - the mermaid nods to her, like she understood that comment.
Commentary: I want to give Carla Gugino props at this point. She gives Lillie this quality that is hard to put into words... sort of like a street urchin, but without the bitter cynicism and later when she has her mini-meltdown, as she begins to process that something is going very wrong that no one else is noticing she does a wonderful job, at turns desperate and funny.
Scene 23: That evening, as the sun sets, our gang is gathered around the table again, drinking with the captain. Lillie decides to turn in, but in the corridor to her and Angus' room, she runs into Miles - who has obviously had more than a few drinks. He's also rather bitter.
Miles stops Lillie from getting to her room and during his monologue, we find out how he knows her - though, she continues denying any such prior meeting. However, Lillie has a past. One involving hooking up with a sailor, making him think they're in love, and then cleaning him out as soon as he puts to sea leaving him with nothing when he gets back.
Commentary: Which adds so much shading to Lillie, and is a credit to Carla that I still like her, when I shouldn't... or at least I should be far more suspicious of her going forward. It's also interesting to think that she may have been playing Angus for her shot at fortune this entire time... a con-woman playing a con-man.
But, back to Miles. Having recognized her as the woman who stole his life savings and left him destitute, he's a bit pissy toward her. She extricates herself from the moment, but clearly it is going to be a long voyage.
Scene 24: After she crawls into her bunk, we are looking down at her through a possible POV and hear the mermaid whispering. We see her webbed hands opening a deck hatch.
Lillie suddenly snaps awake when she hears the deck creaking, and she watches as the lock pops open on its own on her door. She calls out to Angus and goes into the corridor, but no one is there.
Scene 25: Later that night, Lillie is nightmaring. She comes awake, stiffens and then turns over in bed only to see Angus lying next to her. His throat has been ripped out and the mermaid is lying over him ... she turns and squeals at Lillie!
She turns away from them, panicked and yells that she didn't say Angus, she said Miles.
But, of course, this was actually a dream and she wakes up and rolls over to find Angus sleeping quietly next to her.
Scene 26: Lillie sits up, trying not to disturb Angus, but she sees her lap full of blood. As she watches her abdomen expands rapidly, and when she pulls up her hands in front of her face, she finds all of her fingers just bloody stumps, her hands looking more like flippers.
She opens her mouth to scream, but black bile runs out of her mouth instead.
Scene 27: This of course, was only a nightmare within a nightmare. She wakens for real this time, to hear knocking on their guestroom door. It is Gifford at the door, there to tell Angus that the ship's crew has discovered the mermaid.
Scene 28: The creature is lying across the deck, looking much the worse for wear being out of the water. The Captain is more than a bit pissed off that there is a creature of such dark legend aboard his vessel and the threatens to have her thrown overboard, along with Angus and his companions.
However, Angus is able to bargain a private meeting with the Captain and to get the mermaid back into her tank.
Scene 29: As the Captain and Angus march away to his stateroom, the Captain calls for Miles who isn't on deck. Gifford and Bailey see to the mermaid where she's passed out. Bailey tells him that it's like she's drunk, which she then reinforces by vomiting black bile onto the deck... echoing Lillie's nightmare.
Scene 30: In the Captain's room, Angus and he share dark rum and come to a financial agreement to keep the mermaid on board and to deliver them to America as planned. The Captain is very clearly wrestling the risks of this supernatural creature vs. his desire for wealth....
Scene 31: In the corridor, Lillie stumbles to the mermaid's hold. There, the men struggle to lift her up and over the edge of her tank. Gifford explains to Lillie that she had nearly reached the railing of the ship, before she collapsed.
The men leave for some fresh air, with Gifford complaining that the small hold reeks. Lillie stays behind to check on the creature's condition and is startled when her eyes suddenly shoot open. The mermaid then opens her mouth, revealing something inside of it. She surfaces just long enough to spit the object at Lillie, which turns out to be the missing Miles' ring....
Scene 32: The following day, the crew has resumed their normal duties. In their room, Angus responds to his and Lillie's earlier sexcapade. Lillie decides that she has to come clean with Angus about her past and especially how it applies to Miles. Angus tells her that he doesn't care about who she was before she met him. He assures her that he is in love with her.
Lillie shows Angus Miles' ring. She explains that they'd had words and he was very angry with her. Lillie tries to explain to Angus that they'll never find Miles because the mermaid has eaten him, tying her intoxication to Miles' state when he'd confronted her the previous evening. She also tells him that she thinks the mermaid read her mind, knew she wanted Miles gone, and killed and consumed him as a favor to her.
Commentary: Which, really leaves a problem - as there simply isn't any way that the mermaid could do such a thing without being covered in entrails and blood. He'd have to be eaten whole, and that simply isn't possible considering the still humanoid (mostly) appearance of the creature both before and after her adventure on deck. This is one of those b-movie script things where the monster is simply unrealistically able to cover its tracks and I do find it a bit annoying. Of course, this isn't as badly done as usual because we can wank it a bit in that Lillie is taking unsupported leaps here. The mermaid may have killed him and took his ring to show Lillie that it was done, but that doesn't mean she actually ate him. I also don't like how Angus completely discounts Miles' complete lack of appearance with being tied to the mermaid being found on deck. At the very least, he should be acknowledging that perhaps she did kill him, but then insist it had nothing to do with Lillie and that perhaps he saw her trying to make a break for the railing, got in the way and was shoved overboard.
There were much better ways to handle this scene, script wise.
With Lillie in a state over her belief that she is in contact with the mermaid, she insists that they have to pitch her overboard. Angus is less than receptive to the idea of tossing away his chance at fame and fortune and tells her to forget that idea.
Scene 33: A bit later, Lillie is buttoning up her top and we see the mole that angry-and-now-dead-sailor, Miles, made reference to proving that Lillie is indeed the woman who'd done him wrong... which we didn't need, since she already admitted as much.
As she puts in an effort to pull herself together and is placing on her stockings, she sees the Captain's Wife's journal and begins to read it, instead of going to breakfast. She flips through it to random pages, in true movie style, and happens to come across reference to the Old Wife also having strange dreams which she came to believe were not dreams at all.
Scene 34: Now, a bit more freaked out, she joins Bailey at the breakfast table. Lillie asks him about the night that Angus took the mermaid and asks him if anything unusual happened at the Old Sea Captain's home. Bailey denies - stating there was just business talk and Lillie thanks him. She tells him though, that he has a tell when he lies.
As she is leaving the dining room, she suddenly bends over in a spell. She doubles over in a cramp and Bailey reaches for a bucket just before she vomits.
Scene 35: Much later, Angus enters their darkened room, where Lillie has been sitting in the dark. She lights a cigarette dramatically and beging to hurl accusations at him.
Lillie is sitting with the journal in her lap and asks him if he's read it. He blows off that he leafed through it, and she pulls out the last entry of the Sea Captain's Wife, where she quite meticulously describes that she believed the mermaid had invaded her mind and could answer her thoughts.
Angus tells her she was just crazy, but Lillie believes she was recording her descent into despair. He tells her that the Sea Captain was crazy, too, so who cared what she wrote. Lillie seizes on the words WAS CRAZY.
He tries to lie to her about the Sea Captain giving them the creature and the book to use as reference, but isn't very convincing about it. She tells him straight out that he's lying. She tells him there is no way that the Sea Captain gave him the journal in her hands, because it states right in it that his wife and he committed two murders in order to feed the mermaid. She asks him again to tell her what happened that night at the home.
Angus is forced to admit there was an "accident". Next, Lillie forces him to admit that he realizes that the creature almost assuredly ate Miles and that the crew is at risk. He assures her that since Bailey admitted to falling asleep, that Miles could have come in and opened the tank, allowing her to kill him and try to escape. He tells her that they'll just keep the rest of the ship's crew away from her and everything will work out. Lillie is appalled and frustrated.
TBC in Part II