By Jason Marsiglia
I’m not usually one of those guys that believe that a horror film necessitates an “R” rating to be good. There are plenty of perfectly frightening and effective horror films that have carried a “PG-13” or hell, even a “PG”. Jaws was “PG”, believe it or not (seems odd today, to think of Jaws as a “PG”, but it was), and it was visceral. The suspense was built to unnerving effect and when the scare actually hit, you were knocked clean on your ass. Did it have gore? Sure, some. Not a lot, but it was present. The point was, the shark attacks didn’t have to be ramped up to “R”-rated levels of gore to shock or frighten you. It just told a damn good story, and you kinda did the rest. Jump ahead 35 years, and we’re given the Piranha remake in 2010 – a film that knew it would be compared to Jaws (is there a man-eating fish film that isn’t?), and decided – very blatantly – that it was going to go for a non-stop gore, sex, and carnage exploitation film, and put it to such an extreme that regardless of how thin the plot was, you had to sit back and laugh at the its audacity and shamelessness.
Now we have Shark Night 3D, a movie that seemed to want to echo the terror of Jaws and the sleaze of Piranha, but didn’t have the conviction, the creativity, the brains or the balls to pull off either one. What results is the cinematic equivalent of a pitcher deciding to throw a fastball, changing his mind mid-throw, and sending the ball straight into the dirt.
A group of Louisiana college students travel to a friend’s isolated lake house for some sun bathing, water-skiing and hell…maybe a little more if everyone plays their cards right. Soon, people start getting picked off by sharks that seem to have mysteriously populated the lake. Efforts to call for help are nixed to bad phone reception and a chase with a shark resulted in their speedboat exploding. Forced to rely on a couple of local rednecks, the friends desperately try to escape the lake with their parts in tact.
I’ve already hinted at the film’s rating issue, so to continue to speak about how director David R. Ellis constantly tries to high wire some gratuity into a film whose rating simply doesn’t support it, seems worthless. There’s a little blood, chicks in bikinis and one dude’s bare ass. I’ve seen episodes of “Baywatch” that were more boner-inducing. Probably more intense, too. So to watch it is like watching a film edited for television, except it’s not edited and you paid $10+ to see it (if you were unlucky enough to catch it in theaters, of course – a rental won’t feel nearly as damaging to your wallet, is it felt to mine).
Secondly, the “rednecks”. People are paying to see people get eaten by sharks. Not only is it unnecessary for the film to have villains in the mix, but the sleazy, racist, sneering bozos in this movie are your typical Deliverance-bred rednecks, complete with leering, body-molesting stares. Always a joy to see characters like this, particularly in movies that didn’t require them.
And lastly, the “twist”. My GOD, the “twist”…
Like villains, a “twist” to an animal attack movie is, at most, an odd and unnecessary inclusion. Defying my almost overwhelming urge to warn potential viewers how stupid the twist is, I won’t spoil it here. But when you find out why the sharks are there, how they got there, and what purpose they serve, you’re either going to laugh at the film’s sudden detour into “Stupid-ville”, or slap your fucking forehead and wonder why, in a movie already so bad, does this development piss you off so much. I’m telling you, when you hear the reasons why this is happening, and how the Discovery Channel’s annual “Shark Week” marathon fits into it, you’ll be stunned by the stupidity. And this doesn’t take into consideration the massive plot holes and sheer unlikeliness it takes to achieve this stupidity.
The CGI shark effects are about parallel with the CGI in say, Deep Blue Sea. Not quite Sharktopus, but you get the idea. Oh, and they “roar” too – something that, after Jaws: The Revenge, audiences clearly just LOVE in shark attack films. The performances range anywhere from wooden to melodramatic, with the exception being former “American Idol” runner up Katharine McPhee, who’s actually a better actress than most people who got into the biz through their vocal talents (and certainly one of the sexiest). She’s natural, funny, evokes some decent panic when it’s needed and looks fucking great in a bikini. Otherwise, we get the lovely Sara Paxton, who after such a grueling performance in the Last House on the Left remake, seems either really wooden or just bored here. She seems to “inhabit” scenes, and not really act in them. Hatchet’s Joel David Moore is funny and engaging here, but he’s basically playing the same guy from Hatchet. I’m not complaining, but it felt phoned in.
But overall, the sheer ineptitude of the film, the unnecessary plot developments and the mysterious need to include villains are what waterlog this tame excuse for a late summer shocker. I don’t particularly care for a film that assumes I’ll “settle” or “suspend disbelief” to such heights, and Shark Night 3D seems confident that everyone will do just that. Let me put it this way: I spent most of this film trying to decide which film I’d rather be watching between this and Jaws: The Revenge.
The sad thing is, I wasn’t able to decide at all. How’s that chum taste?
C: Sara Paxton, Chris Carmack, Dustin Milligan, Katharine McPhee, Joshua Leonard. D: David R. Ellis. Sub genre: Animal Attack. Time: 91 minutes. Ratio: (1.85:1) Widescreen. Rated PG-13: Some animal attacks and related gore, language, sexual references, brief nudity, some disturbing imagery and a few racial elements.
The Best Digital Bang For Your Hard-Earned Buck:
First, I want to address the 3D issue here. Shark Night was originally titled – in theaters – as Shark Night 3D. For home video, they’ve digitally erased the 3D in the title. Did they finally realize that using the theatrical gimmick of 3D as part of the film’s actual title was stupid? Or did they give the film another quick once-over and realize that even on DVD/Blu-Ray, the price of a 3D copy wouldn’t be worth the cost to produce, since I can’t imagine anyone giving a shit to pay extra for the product?
Your guess is as good as mine, but what was formerly Shark Night 3D is now simply Shark Night, and there appears to be no plans for a 3D double-dip on the horizon.
Cry me a shark-infested river, right? Moving on.
First there’s Shark Attack! Kill Machine! (5:43), a quick montage of every death in the film, which amounts to about five minutes. Something akin to what New Line used to do with the Nightmare on Elm Street DVDs and their “Jump to a Nightmare” feature, this pretty much sums up every death scene in one tidy little package. Again…it amounts to five minutes of footage…six if you’re lucky. The film itself is 91 minutes. You do the math, folks. Either watch this bonus feature and save the extra 84 minutes of your life from wasting away, or consider this a SPOILER feature. Your call.
Shark Night’s Survival Guide (4:08) is a collection of trivia questions about shark attacks, intermingled with clips from the film for “added effect”, I’m sure. Uninteresting, unless you’re one of the five people in the world who isn’t compulsively engrossed by Discovery Channel’s annual “Shark Week” marathons.
A couple of very brief behind-the-scenes featurettes are included, titled Fake Sharks, Real Scares (5:24) and Ellis’ Island (4:22). The first takes a look at the mixture of CGI sharks and practical animatronics, while the latter is simply some behind-the-scenes set footage that includes interviews with cast and crew.
Rounding it off are the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:59) and some standard DVD Sneak Peeks (10:10) for various other titles.
Sequels: None, but if they can keep churning out direct-to-video sequels to Anaconda or whatever, I don’t see why we wouldn’t eventually see this film birth a litter of bad sequels in its wake.
Remakes: Ha! Not yet…but there’s always room for improvement here.