Bermuda Island (2023)
Most of Adam Werth’s Bermuda Island may be set in the location of the title, where a planeload of pilots, passengers, flight attendants and FBI personnel has crash-landed in a freak storm en route from the United States to San Juan, Puerto Rico – but the film begins on the mean streets of LA. After a montage of homeless camps and drug exchanges over the opening credits, arms dealer, money launderer and all-round ‘badass’ joker Diego (Noel Gugliemi) gets arrested – following a vicious shootout – in a sting operation. Diego will be on the plane under armed Federal escort, and will even escape his bonds and start shooting again while on board, but (minor spoiler alert) he will never make it to the island, and nor will the briefly appearing flight steward Jonas (Tom Sizemore) – “still as handsome as ever”, as one passenger observes, and evidently cast for the most part to bring some name recognition to the poster (two brothers in the film also come with the surname Sizemore).
Given that Diego disappears from the film after the first act, it might seem odd – gratuitous, even – that there is so much initial focus on him. Of course, he does provide early opportunities for the kind of violent set-pieces that are the life blood of a B-movie like this, and despite his subsequent absence from Bermuda Island, his presence on the plane explains why there are so many FBI agents – and guns – amongst the stranded survivors. Most of all, though, those initial scenes with Diego show the American city to be a place where savagery is never far from civilisation. This urban jungle compares as much as it contrasts with the film’s later island setting. Also, Diego’s repeatedly stated surname, Montalban, alludes to the actor Ricardo Montalbán, and his long-running TV series Fantasy Island (1977-84), whose sea-girt setting often featured paranormal elements, foreshadowing what is to come here.
The Amercians will discover that they are not alone. On the one hand there is a pack of feral flesh-eating anthropoid creatures who come out mostly at night to bite and eviscerate the newcomers with great efficiency; and on the other hand there is Bruce (John Wells), a young, muscular ex-soldier who has been alone on the island longer than anyone imagines, and who has plenty of tips on how to live – and not to die – there. This disparate band of castaways quickly proves incapable of getting along or agreeing on a strategy, and so they split into two factions – although for all his posturings of authority and reliability, the leader of one faction, FBI Agent Victor Sweden (Wesley Cannon), secretly spies on Bruce’s group to learn and copy basic methods of survival, while passing off these methods as his own.
That, in a nutshell, is also the modus operandi of Bermuda Island itself, a self-consciously derivative affair which cribs from countless other island survival scenarios. “Look,” says Damon (Victor V Gelsomino), “I only know so much about survival and most of that is the shit I’ve seen on TV.” He probably has Lost (2004-10) in mind, with its similar blend of survivalism and the supernatural – while there can also be found here aspects of The Fantastic Journey (1977) and, of course, William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies (1954) and its many adaptations (in fact, it was shot on the same island, Vieques , as Peter Brooks’ 1963 film version of Lord of the Flies). The influence of anthropophagous Italian movies from the Seventies and Eighties (like Prisoner of the Cannibal God, Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox) can also be felt. The problem is, though, that there are too many characters for a film of this length to accommodate, and the dialogue is too perfunctory to bring so many of them life. Even their deaths, mostly at the teeth and claws of cheaply costumed creatures (even if the humans too are more than capable of rape and murder), fast become repetitive. Some soapy acting does not help.
This is shoestring filmmaking – with a budget no doubt lower than a single episode of Lost – although, to its credit, the film tightly embraces its psychotronic spirit, gleefully confounding genres from crime flick to survival adventure to creature feature to sci-fi, while coming up with a throughly gonzo explanation for how (if not quite why) so many aircraft and ships have, over the years, disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle. There may be man-eating monsters lurking both on land and in the surrounding waters, but Bermuda Island is equally concerned with the beast within, as it exposes the animalistic side of its most heroic-seeming, supposedly civilised players, and reveals nature – human or otherwise – as a fragile paradise, ever exposed to the elements. These themes are neatly summarised by a neat closing twist.
strap: Adam Werth’s genre-leaping gonzo gorefest exposes Bermuda Triangle castaways to bestial – and human – nature.
© Anton Bitel