In the latest horror outing to remind you to always pack a snorkel, Quicksand gives us all one more reason never to go outdoors. Directed by Andres Beltran, the 85-minute nail-biter could be sold as Open Water on land. That 2003 survival tale was loosely based on the true story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, a couple left behind in the shark-infested waters of the Great Barrier Reef after their charter boat mistakingly made an incorrect head count. In Quicksand, the couple in question really steps in it, and honestly, they only have themselves to blame.
The simple setup involves a bickering couple who bring their problems at home along with them on a work trip to Bogotá, Columbia. Columbian actress Carolina Gaitán and Canadian actor Allan Hawco do enough with their disgruntled husband and wife roles to add some interpersonal tension before they find themselves in mortal danger after taking an ill-advised hike in a dangerous area of the rainforest. As the title promises, they both wind up getting stuck in quicksand, where they must battle the elements and each other to stay alive.
A prelude involving two hunters roaming the same stretch of land establishes the fact that venomous snakes and roadside robbers populate the area, which adds a little bit of extra drama to a premise that, admittedly, could easily get old fast. The audience now knows their predicament is even more dire than they do. Then the wait begins for killer ants and slithering reptiles to come and further terrorize the couple that’s finding fewer and fewer reasons to stay positive.
With little to no wiggle room within such a high-concept framework, Beltran and writer Matt Pitts do just enough to keep things interesting. By design or by necessity, Quicksand is wise not to overstay its welcome. The beats of the story play out in a predictable fashion, starting with the couple’s forced reconciliation as they try to work together and get creative. Then, the jungle comes alive to place the pair in a full-on state of emergency.
In these instances, it may be better not to know the very low probability of survival from that point on. Unfortunately, they both happen to work in health care, so each stage of duress is marked down and noted in painful detail. When you’re trapped in quicksand, and your body starts shutting down, maybe it’s best not to be aware of inevitable organ failure. That’s just not going to inspire much confidence.
Almost as if the director is concerned that staying focused solely on the couple will bore us, an unnecessary subplot involving their best friend and a lowly thief derails some of the intensity. With a title card like Quicksand, sometimes the story becomes more of a procedural instead of confidently remaining in the realm of straightforward survival horror.
Quicksand commits to making a full-fledged feature out of a perilous situation that usually only amounts to a little bit of screen time in other adventure films. Undoubtedly, characters finding themselves trapped in quicksand are a proud part of cinema history. Laurence of Arabia, The Neverending Story, Beastmaster, Enemy Mine, and even Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker have all had frightening and sometimes tragic encounters with the natural phenomenon.
Falling into nature’s trap door is unquestionably terrifying. But Quicksand‘s attempt to stretch out that pitfall to feature length does feel dragged out. Overdramatizing certain emotional moments seems forced when adding one or two more elemental threats could have really tightened the screws.
Actually, Quicksand is more in line with situational survivalist horror like Adam Green’s Frozen and the aforementioned Open Water. Those characters found themselves in danger through no fault of their own. In Quicksand, the whole affair seems completely avoidable, and the couple in peril aren’t likable enough to really root for. Still, it’s a taut, cathartic little thriller that’s worth adding to your summer watchlist.
If you do find yourself out on a hike and suddenly sinking in quicksand, Dread Central implores you to follow this handy guide: Stop moving, Lighten the load, Grab onto something, Lean back and wiggle your feet, call for help. And remember to keep breathing and try and remain calm. Thank us later.
Quicksand is now available on Shudder.
Quicksand does just enough with its high concept premise to keep the tension from sinking under the weight of over sentimentality.