You can cut the tension in Dead Calm with a knife. The scenes between Nicole Kidman and Billy Zane are positively nail-biting, thanks in large part to Zane himself. As Hughie, the deeply disturbed kidnapper who walks a fine line between docility and insanity, Zane is equal parts charming and terrifying. With Hughie, you don’t know what you’re going to get; one moment, he’s dancing up on deck, the next he’s got his hands around Kidman’s throat, yet regardless of which extreme is in control at any given moment, Zane himself never loses control of the character. He brings a sort of grounding to Hughie, a sense of stability to a completely unstable character, where the nice guy who likes music is never far from the potential killer.
Both Kidman and Sam Neill do a fine job as the husband and wife in peril, but it’s Zane who ultimately commands our attention, and it’s because of him that the events of Dead Calm will stay with you for days afterwords.
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