On a nearby island with an infamous past, four friends come to dock on the island from a pleasure craft cruise to explore the adjacent and serene lake surrounded by woods. What was supposed to be a fun, relaxing, and romantic getaway turns frantic when one of them accidently falls into the lake and is bitten by a mysterious unseen creature in knee high water. With a storm brewing and the bite affects worsening, the group takes shelter inside a seemingly abandoned lakeside cabin receiving an unwelcome and surprise greeting from an old woman who immediately wants to kill the injured party, but is bitten during the small skirmish and kills herself in total fear. Bewildered, the group remains in refuge from the storm, sleeping through the worst winds and rain only to wake up to find the injured and one other friend missing. Their search brings them back to the lake where they discover once bitten, there’s no saving you as the lake is a breeding ground for vicious, blood hungry mermaids, spreading their transformative contagion with a single bite. As the survivors contemplate next steps, the old woman’s delinquent adult son returns home to find mother dead and sets out to kill her murder.
Popping my mermaid horror cherry with the Jason Mills’ ravenous take on the mythical half-human, half-aquatic creature feature, “Mermaid Isle,” released in 2020. The writer-director debuted his first genre feature back in 2009 with an attic dwelling creature terrorizing an unsuspecting and already fragile and distraught family in “Above Us Lives Evil,” also more commonly known as “They Came from the Attic,” but it wasn’t until 2015 when “Above Us Evil Lives” came across our critical lap and was reviewed rather favorably for the filmmaker’s first credited venture with the following excerpt observing Mills as a “promising” director with “attributes that can contribute to the horror community” through the “strategical” use of knitting visual FX work with practical prosthetics to supply an effective heinous attic monster on a penny pinching purse string. Over a decade later, Mills continued his successful ability to turn around project after project of independent b-horror that includes the markings of spiraling madness with “The Changing of Ben Moore,” a joint home and alien invasion thriller with “Alone We Are Not,” and even tackling the mysterious and carnage-laden mythical sasquatch in “Bigfoot Country.” The director’s latest sea-faring fiends maintain the basic principle features of a fabled mermaid: an alluring, half-naked maiden on the top half with a marine flipper-tail at the bottom. Yet, “Mermaid Isle” explores the darker side of the mermaid mythology with a schlocky, self-funding of the plagued island concept with his own production company, Millspictures Studios.
“Mermaid Isle” is very character dependent to push the story along and toward the secluded residing lake since the story concept doesn’t involve any victims to be wound up stranded, buoying in the water, and surrounded by deadly and infectious mermaids creating a filthy amount of dire circumstances of harrowing survival. Instead, we doggie paddle along with bland, monotonous, and uninteresting characters played by bland, monotonous, and uninteresting actors riding the only wave of substance of the lead character (Mark Reinhardt) being rejected upon his proposal to his short term girlfriend (Kristina Soroff). The other two in the group, an assertive goth (“Bigfoot Country’s” Kiana Passmore) and tagalong friend (Samuel Buchanon), offer little to warrant their survival as they’re targeted for either mermaid chum or to be marked for warped evolution. The young cast never click together as on screen friends or form a frantic group with a correlating enemy, but rather seem underwhelmed by the lake inhabited by evil mermaids being the source of their dilemma. There was much more interested in the double sided danger foreboding around the old woman (Elinor Walker) and her bad new son (Dan Martinez), whose mysterious ruffian background surfaces to the top as he’s eager to turn his newfangled life of a straighten arrow path is squashed back into the miscreant he was once was by hunting down those responsible for his mother’s death, but that also fizzles into oblivion. Hope for the character emerges when he declares, “time to do some bitch fishing,” as an oath to, once again, contain the mermaid contagion from spreading by some noble crusade of, oh, I don’t know, spear fishing the hell out of the creatures or taking a dive into the depths of the unknown and do a little hand-to-flipper combat. Sadly, “Mermaid Isle” continues to miss chances rewarding viewers with potential much needed plights. The film rounds out with Liam Tait, Austin Richards, and Garnet Campbell in some unresolved, barely associating epilogue set four months later.
“Mermaid Isle” struggles to come up for air as an exalting mermaid horror, especially being released in 2020 amongst a sea of competing indie interests. Yet, Mill’s story spans over three and half decades beginning with a backstory, told through the words of newspaper clippings from 1983, honing in around a prefacing story of a father and son being murdered by a mermaid bitten daughter and transforms to ravage portion of the family. While the news clipping claim hoax, the mother, the old woman, who we visit in the story later at the cabin, is shuttled off by authorities to a psychiatric ward because of her rant and ravings about killer mermaids. While the slightly crafty, yet also chintzy soaked way to setup the film is engrossing enough to keep us interested at the start, the small budget stiffens any kind of any remotely rudimentary devices to then mingle man versus unnatural nature in a project too big for the budget’s britches. Further reaffirmations assume the assigning of multiple hats amongst the crew and cast, including Kiana Passmore is also the first assistant director, Garnet Campbell is the line producer, and the Mills and the Passmore families extending their services as credited Crafty and Location scouts. The story logical capsizes the moment the movie is popped into the player. For instance, the movie is entitled “Mermaid Isle,” but the Island is adjacent to a river and on the other side of that river is a lake so the premise really has nothing to do with the island, but rather a lake. The DVD back cover mentions the four friends attempting to conjure (spelled conjueron the back cover); yet, there’s none of that conjuring jazz and nothing to affix the detached epilogue to the rest of the film, as previous stated. Lastly, the DVD front cover has more gore, more skin, and even a shark in the water. Low and behold, none of those enamors exists. I will say this about “Mermaid Isle,” the mermaid itself looks convincing, obscured enough around the seams and the physical fish tale to pull off an effective mermaid creature with pitch black eyes and a face flush with hunger.
If feeling adventurous, jump into the deadly waters of Jason Mills’ “Mermaid Isle” on DVD courtesy of World Wide Multimedia Entertainment, an affiliate of Alchemy Works, and MVDVisual. The not rated, 80 minute feature, is presented in a widescreen presentation, 1.66:1 aspect ratio, and the overall video image quality is not too terrible, but lacks breadth of color, compressing the details of the woods, the rocky lake shore, the old cabin, and the snow-covered trees more favorably than would have expected. Some aliasing during more actiony sequences in the water with the mermaid swimming. The English language 5.1 surround sound mix is a complete lackluster in regards to dialogue. The muffled vocals are nearly indiscernible levels for more than half the dialogue track and heavily overshadowed by ambient mix and, a bright spot on the release, the Thomas Beckman viola that almost feels too Renaissance to be paired with “Mermaid Isle.” Aside from a static menu with chapters, there were no special features included. Having no point of refence having never seen “The Lure,” “She Creature,” or even “The Mermaid: Lake of the Dead,” “Mermaid Isle” sinks the aquatic humanoid subgenre deep into Davy Jones locker for greenhorn viewers, but bares intrigue at times with the idea of a menacingly unfathomable creature stirring in the blue waters, sloshing up enough to give you the creeps and not bother with the movie itself.