Tales of the Black Freighter (2009) : ****/5

Published on: December 19th, 2009

Who knew there was a missing link between Watchmen and Lars Von Trier’s Dogville? Here it is, in the form of this cheerfully gruesome little animation, available as an extra on the feature-film DVD or as a stand-alone disc (with various additional extras therein.) Like Von Trier’s film, Black Freighter is loosely based on the song ‘Pirate Jenny’ from Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, and was originally a metafictional element of the graphic-novel Watchmen world – in that it was a comic which characters within the comic themselves occasionally read, and whose story intersected with (and obliquely commented upon) the main narrative.
Turning Watchmen from graphic novel to film made it somewhat tricky to pull off a similar post-modern/metafictional trick with Black Freighter, and its status as a DVD extra isn’t anywhere near as inventive or clever as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original interpolations. Taken on its own terms, however, this is a more satisfying and coherent enterprise than Zack Snyder’s Watchmen movie, following The Sea Captain (voiced by Gerard Butler) after an encounter with the demonic crew of The Black Freighter.
Shipwrecked and marooned, he improvises a startlingly stomach-churning method of escaping his desert island and heads back home to Davidstown, which he surmises is the Black Freighter’s next destination. He makes it back in one piece – physically, at least. Mentally it’s a different matter altogether, leading to the satisfyingly macabre denouement. A bloodthirsty exercise in paranoia and unreliable narration, Black Freighter is much closer to 1970s horror comics than the sci-fi world of Watchmen, and indeed if rendered via live-action and CGI as a “conventional” movie would be suitable only for the most hardened of gorehounds.
In “cartoon” form, however, it’s an enjoyably unpleasant addition to the centuries-old tradition of nautical-themed tall tales, the kind of spine-chiller one can easily imagine John Houseman’s Mr Machen – from John Carpenter’s The Fog – relating to wide-eyed kids around the campfire, and not just because the denizens of the Freighter themselves are so clearly inspired by the red-eyed, seafaring ghouls from the 1980 classic of brackish nastiness.

Neil Young
19.12.09

Tales of the Black Freighter
**** / 5 (or 10/28) : USA 2009
directed by Daniel DelPurgatorio and Mike Smith : 28mins