Phillip Noyce’s Dead Calm
Before she became the famous wife of Tom Cruise, and after her role in Brian Trenchard-Smith’s 80s ozploitation cult classic BMX Bandits, Aussie actress Nicole Kidman starred in the 1989 thriller Dead Calm.
Rae (Kidman) and John Ingram (Sam Neill) are a couple who have lost their child in a tragic car crash. Now some time later they have decided to take a trip on their private boat as a way to refresh themselves and heal from the tremendous pain that has plagued them over their loss.
While out on the ocean, they come across a boat and its sole survivor Huey (Billy Zane). When he comes aboard, Huey is panicked and in shock after he explains that his crewmates have all suddenly died of food poisoning. The couple help Huey relax and he passes out in the lower cabin. Rae and John are suspicious, so they lock Huey in the room temporarily as he sleeps until John can get to Huey’s boat and find out what really has happened. John finally makes it to the boat using the small schooner Huey arrived in. When Huey awakes he goes berzerk after finding he’s been locked inside the room. He finally busts out of the cabin, sees John is investigating the boat and knocks Rae out cold after a struggle to get control of the boat. John quickly tries to get back and after making a failed jump to grab onto a loose rope trailing behind the boat, he’s left behind. John then returns to Huey’s ship and after a bit he finds that Huey in fact killed all his shipmates in a psychotic rampage. The large boat is also badly damaged and he must try to fix it and get back to Rae to save her life. The film becomes a floating rollercoaster of emotions and thrills as Huey holds Rae hostage and she tries to outwit him long enough to reunite with John.
I first saw this film on video in the 1980s and ever since its been a favorite of mine. Billy Zane’s Huey is one great psychotic character and he plays him with both a strange kind of charm and deranged menace. It’s one of his best performances from his early career and showed that he had some real chops to play interesting characters. Nicole Kidman wasn’t well known when this film came out but it definitely showed her intense acting talents were perfect for the crossover to big Hollywood projects.