04th Jun2021

‘Saltwater: The Battle for Ramree Island’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Steven Dolton, Ryan Harvey, Glenn Salvage, Jas Steven Singh, Charlie Bond, David Hon Ma Chu, Tony Lau | Written and Directed by Steve Lawson

Independent Midlands filmmaker Steve Lawson, whose last film, Bram Stoker’s Van Helsing, was a surprising take on the Dracula mythos, is back behind the camera for and altogether different beast – literally – killer crocodile come war film Saltwater: The Battle for Ramree Island. Which is apparently based on a true story…

That true story is the titular battle, which took place in 1945, during the Second World War, when the Allied army invaded Ramree to establish airbases to support the Allies mainland invasion plans. However the mangrove swamps of the island, and the nearby Cheduba Island, were apparently home to a bevy of saltwater crocodiles – enough that the crocodiles massacre of the occupying Japanese soldiers has been called the “worst crocodile disaster in the world”.

The film which, according to reports, is one of Lawson’s biggest productions, follows a small (and I mean small, there’s only four of them!) band of Allied soldiers – three English, and one Burmese/Indian – as they make their way through the jungles and swamps of Ramree Island in search of a secret Japanese ammunition store. Only they come across the waves of saltwater crocodiles that reportedly killed so many Japanese soldiers on the island… Well they would if this film could afford that many effects; instead he crocodiles are in small supply, just like the films cast!

Due to obvious budgetary limitations – though IMDb mentions this actually cost a million dollars (how?!) – Saltwater essentially sees our four soldiers wandering through the jungle, which in some scenes was undoubtedly filmed the soundstage at Lawson’s Creativ Studios facility in Leicester and in others the 13 acres of land at Parkland Studios in Hinckley (which doubled quite well as the jungles of Ramree), eventually getting picked off one by one by the, mostly UNSEEN, crocodiles. With some dodgy rubber limbs and picked clean skeletons all that is really seen of these so-called terrify crocodile attacks.

So what do our soldiers do? The bed down right next to a bloody lake, that they KNOW has crocodiles in it! It’s even more stupid that it sounds… In fact there’s a lot of dumb stuff that goes on in Saltwater. The deaths of each soldier are clearly marked – the Sergeant drops something into the lake, he’s dead; wannabe photographer Pike’s has a dream about his girlfriend, he’s dead. Two of the films soldiers are at each other’s throats one minute (thanks systemic racism) and the next they’re sharing stories about their families. The stupidest decision? To ENTER the bloody swamp to get a backpack!

Now I did say the crocodiles in Saltwater are unseen but that’s something of a fib. The attacking crocodiles are pretty much unseen, instead we get ominous shots of still water with an accompanying creepy soundtrack. However we do see plenty of footage of crocodiles in the film – swimming in swamps, crawling around the brush but never anywhere near our cast of characters… All thanks to some wonderful stock-footage filmmakers and some well-matched colour-grading.

Eventually Lawson DOES tie this jungle adventure into the story it purportedly was inspired by, by having his characters blow themselves up, thus the Japanese army rushing to see what the commotion is and thus getting eaten by the very crocodiles our foursome have been battling with for the entire duration of the film. Well, that is what’s discussed and eventually implied by the cards at the end of the film. Do we actually see any of that? Er, no. That would cost too much money!

Pretty much a four man stage play filmed in the woods rather than on stage, Saltwater: The Battle for Ramree Island is a slow-moving, overly-talky movie that, for me, seems like a huge comedown for Lawson after his Van Helsing movie.

Saltwater: The Battle for Ramree Island is out now in the US from 4Digital Media.

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