I have a weakness for aquatic monster movies. Maybe I’m still searching for the hugely enjoyable thrills I got from Spielberg’s Jaws the first time round. Well, okay, second time round. The first time I tried to watch Jaws, I bottled the rest of the movie when Dreyfuss went diving and found you-know-what in Ben Gardner’s boat. I’m made of tougher stuff now, or so I like to think. I sure needed to be tough to survive the pain of Mega Piranha, and Shark in Venice, during my search for the elusive monster movie that can compare to Spielberg’s classic.
I think part of the fascination with such films is that fighting a monster on land isn’t half as scary as fighting a monster underwater, the one domain where, even if we can swim, we’re at a disadvantage: ponderously slow compared to an underwater killer who’s lived all his life beneath the waves, hunting and chomping.
Shark Night, fully aware that just about everyone has seen Jaws, pays homage to that film’s opening scene. And not very successfully. It just made me think how much I’d rather be watching Jaws and not this cheapo, toothless, knock-off version. So, it’s not a good start.
With that out of the way, it’s time to meet the college kids, the guys who’ll end up being shark food in no particular order. I say “in no particular order”, but anyone who’s familiar with the horror genre will no doubt work out a rough order of the deaths in about thirty seconds flat. And I’m probably being generous with that timescale.
The kids are the usual bunch of clichés. There’s…
- The sensible chick, with her head screwed on right.
- The dangerous babe, with dark hair and tattoos.
- The nerd who might just turn out to be a hero.
- The idiotic jock.
- The self-aware, sarcastic twat.
- The black guy who might as well have, “I’ll die early in this movie!” on a big sign around his neck.
- The Hispanic chick who might as well have, “I’ll die early in this movie!” on a big sign around her neck.
The clichés keep stacking up when a pair of scummy looking Hillbillies are introduced. The film, occasionally, tries to subvert a cliché: the jock, for example, starts crying at one point. I’m all for that, if it works. Somehow though, it doesn’t. It’s because, unlike a shark that sees a pair of tasty human legs treading water in front of its snout, Shark Night is a film that doesn’t know which way to turn.
Scenes of serious, panicked teens clash with really bad CGI sharks darting through the water at silly speeds. They often spring out of the water, like a jack in the box, to eat someone at random. These moments, so sudden, do a great job of replacing old-fashioned ideas of building pace and tension. It’s never scary, the attacks designed purely to get a cheap thrill from that most overused thing of the moment, 3D. I saw it in 2D, but I doubt the extra dimension adds much.
There’s a bit where one of the college kids goes head to head with a hammerhead (yes, I did just say, “head to head with a hammerhead”), with just a harpoon in his hand. Played right, stuff like that could be glorious fun. It’s played wrong though, totally straight. Sometimes that means a film can end up being unintentionally funny. At least then, there’s some enjoyment to be had. Shark Night doesn’t even have that. Mostly, I just found myself quietly shaking my head in disbelief. The director, David R. Ellis, struggles to nail the right tone.
It’s only towards the end, when an animatronic shark seems to have replaced a CGI one, that the pulse begins to quicken. It looks quite effective. Maybe like “Bruce” in Jaws, it kept malfunctioning, hence its brief appearance. Fortunately, back then, Spielberg didn’t have a computer to plug the gaps in the movie where the shark was out of action.
Director David R. Ellis does, and it ends up being a complete disaster. Imagine a cheap “The Asylum” movie, but with competent actors. The result, unexpectedly, isn’t a superior movie.
Shark Night? More like Shark Shite.