Thirst (1998)


USA. 1998.


Director – Bill L. Norton, Teleplay – John Mandel, Story – Paul A. Kaufman & John Mandel, Producer – Anthony Santa Croce, Photography – Paul Maibaum, Music – Daniel Licht, Special Effects Supervisor – Larry Fioritto, Production Design – Daniel A. Lomino. Production Company – Citadel Entertainment


Adam Arkin (Bob Miller), Joely Fisher (Susan Miller), Giancarlo Esposito (Dr Lawrence Carver), Casey Biggs (Mayor Harold Warren), Ken Jenkins (Lou), Jimmy Galeota (Bobby Miller), Phyllis Lyons (Alison), Erica Angarano (Amelia Miller)


The town of San Paulo is suffering from a heatwave. Engineer Bob Miller turns up at work to learn that the new water filtration plant he has been building has been cancelled and that he is now unemployed. At the same time, Bob’s wife Susan has to deal with a series of mystery deaths at the hospital where she works as a nurse. Bob realizes that the cause might be the water supply. Dr Lawrence Carver confirms that the water is infected with a deadly bacteria Cryptosporidium. They discover that the Cryptosporidium is throughout the town’s drinking water. The only choice is to turn the water plant off and for everybody to drink only bottled or boiled water. As the death toll grows, they realize that they are dealing with a mutated form of the bacteria that is resistant to boiling. Meanwhile, the state governor’s office makes the decision to put a military quarantine around the town.

Thirst is a tv movie that is a variant on the plague outbreak movie – see Outbreak (1995) and the host of copies that came out after it. The vague novelty that Thirst offers is that it is a plague outbreak film set around a city’s water filtration and recycling systems. It becomes apparent in watching the film that writer John Mandel has done his research in water treatment science and/or that he has a personal background working for treatment plants.

Alas, the ins and outs of water filtration plants makes for a film that is about as exciting as a dramatised engineering manual or scientific paper. Outside of the technical detail, the film is stuck with the cliches of the outbreak movie – the corrupt mayor, the military cordon around the town, the establishment of martial law and so on. The tv movie budget fails to allow Thirst to depict the disaster on any wide scale – there is some rioting, for instance, but this only consists of about a dozen people scrabbling to get water bottles from the back of a truck. There is all manner of soap operaish family dramas. There is one particularly contrived climactic drama with the winch cable snapping as the tank is wheeled into place, where hero Adam Arkin must put his life on the line to open the valve that might explode at any minute.

Thirst should not be confused with either the Australian vampire movie Thirst (1979) or the South Korean vampire film Thirst (2009).

Full film available here

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