The Aquaman movie has no shortage of villains, with both Black Manta and Ocean Master to contend with. But it's the grotesque swarms of the Trench that will give people nightmares - which is exactly what director James Wan was after.
Of all the ways that Aquaman perfectly adapts the comics, the tribe of Atlantis that "regressed" into the hideous, man-eating Trench is among the most faithful. Appearing as they do in the comics, and with an identical backstory, the Trench of the film are introduced as an endless, writhing mass of teeth absolutely filling the blackness of the ocean's bottom. But believe it or not, the movie's director wasn't trying to create a horror movie monster... he was trying to capture the true horrors of our planet's oceans.
Knowing that some Aquaman fans would write off the Trench as director James Wan's chance to pay homage to his horror roots, we asked him about the scene and monsters in question. According to Wan, his Trench were intended to capture a part of the ocean that the rest of the movie ignored. And to remind audiences that even for Aquaman... the ocean can be home to nightmares.
One sequence that is going to stand out for audiences is Arthur and Mera's introduction to the Trench. A lot of people will look at that and say 'James Wan does horror, so there's his horror.' But what was the real motivation and thinking behind giving the Trench that particular treatment?
I really wanted the hero to see the different kingdoms that eventually he'll be king of, right? So he needs to see his subjects, and he needs to see that there are all kind of races of people down there. And one of the races are the Trench people. Going into it I knew that I wanted Atlantis to be very vibrant, to be very sort of magical and wondrous, and all that.
But I also wanted to portray, or rather to capture the tone and feel of the ocean to me. The ocean is big and magical and all of that, but also we’re terrified of the ocean as well. I felt that moment allows me to lean back into my horror roots to do something like that. And ultimately it allows me to really showcase one of my signature shot designs of the film which is a cross-section of the ocean. And you get to see what’s above the surface and what’s below the surface.
That was one of the first images I came up with during pre-production, which is Arthur and Mera swimming down, with a cross-section of the ocean. It’s a big wide shot, and we just see them swarmed, surrounded by the Trench creatures. And the only thing that’s holding them back is this flare, the bubble, within the safety of the flare light. So I just thought from a visual standpoint it was something that was very captivating.
The visuals the Trench make possible - blending The Creature from the Black Lagoon with endless hordes of Alien Xenomorphs - are truly breathtaking, and put even the Trench of the comics to shame. But the scene helps to sketch out even more of the DC movie universe. While offering a reminder that even if Aquaman and Superman cross paths in the DCEU, the Man of Steel will never know all of the ocean's secrets. Thanks to James Wan, that now includes the kingdoms of Atlantis in the light - and in the dark, terrors even our own imaginations can't dream up.