Ghost Shark (2013)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2016-06-29 20:08

Written by: Griff Furst, Eric Forsberg, Paul A. Birkett, Scott Foy
Directed by: Griff Furst
Starring: Mackenzie Rosman, Sloane Coe, and Richard Moll

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

"Your daddy brought this horror into our world--you get to send it back."

When I decided to dedicate a week out of every year to shark movies back in 2009, I couldn’t have known just how awfully it would blow up in my face. At that time, it seemed reasonable enough: stuff like Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus was a thing, but nobody could have guessed it would herald an exponential boom of intentionally shitty shark movies that would leave me dreading rather than anticipating this week every year. Any semblance of quality can’t even be presumed among these ranks now, whose numbers have grown beyond control—at this point, I’m not even surprised to stumble upon three or four new ones that I didn’t even realize were produced in the intermittent year.

Instead, you can only hope one of these offers some kind of genuinely gonzo moments to live up to their sort of faux-gonzo pitches: so many are just content to yuk it up at their over-the-top premises but stop there. The biggest joke always seems to be on you: “can you believe you’re watching something as dumb as Sharknado?” these movies always seem to ask without taking the customary step of actually trying.

Maybe it’s just because the bar has been lowered in the past few years, but I can’t exactly say that about Ghost Shark, a movie that was no doubt willed into existence by the same process that has yielded Super Shark, Sharknado, Zombie Shark, etc. However, unlike so many of these other films, there’s a (very) basic effort to fully realize the premise—well, as much as one can fully realize such a potential on a SyFy budget. You may have even some of these moments captured in .gif form online—it’s how I realized I just had to check this one out rather than take an even bigger gamble on another movie sight unseen. If nothing else, Ghost Shark had me at least a little big excited to watch another one of these things.

I never thought I’d write this sentence, but Ghost Shark mostly lives up to the .gifs. Obviously, you can’t help but revel in the stupidity of its plot, which is incited by a group of big-game fishermen callously killing a great white shark, only to see it quickly resurrected as a vengeful spirit. Before long, it’s terrorizing a nearby coastal town, particularly a set of college-aged friends who naturally sound like crazy people when they insist there’s a goddamn ghost shark out there. Only a shady lighthouse operator (Richard Moll) seems to know what’s really going on, but even he acts cryptically as the shark raises hell.

The hellraising is where Ghost Shark actually bothers to separate itself from other shark movies. If you’ve seen a handful of these more recent efforts, you’re probably familiar with how they operate: tons of creature fodder are introduced and swiftly knocked off in fairly nondescript fashion—like, usually, an obviously digital shark will just pop out of nowhere and devour them. It’s like everyone’s trying to recreate the famous scene from Deep Blue Sea without realizing just how decently crafted it was. Fortunately, the folks behind Ghost Shark seem to agree, as you sense the screenwriters* had some demented fun in devising these sequences. Since the shark’s ghost can appear in any body of water, the fun here is watching it randomly appear in the most absurd places, be it a swimming pool or a slip-and-slide (the latter is surely one of the film’s most infamous sequences and destined to live on as a gif).

You do wish the effects budget could really allow these scenes to live up to their potential, but they’re pretty nuts all the same. Mostly, it’s the gore that suffers—of course the shark itself looks ridiculous, but the fact that it’s a ghost almost excuses it (though, in an ironic twist, the shark here actually looks better than what you usually see). Had the gory punchlines been realized practically, Ghost Shark might have been a genuine trash classic. I love that it at least makes the effort to indulge its concept, though. In one of the more inspired bits, it even dreams up a scenario where someone drinks water. There’s a playfulness to it—you wonder if it’s actually going to go there, and then it’s suddenly ripping off the Alien chestburster sequence with a fucking ghost shark. It’s rare that one of these things coaxes an authentic howl of disbelief and delight from me, but this moment sealed the deal. Ghost Shark kind of rules in its own way.

Of course, it could have completely ruled if it didn’t suffer from the same sort of flaws that often sink these movies. In addition to the shoddy effects work, it has that familiar digital look that immediately signals “cheap,” though it must be said that Ghost Shark isn’t as harshly over-lit as many of its contemporaries. The acting, too, can’t be overlooked: you’re not likely to find transcendent performances in a shark movie unless it boasts Robert Shaw in its credits, but Ghost Shark seems to be aggressively questionable. Rather than grate with a bunch of annoying, over-the-top performances (there are only a few, as opposed to the whole cast taking part), it features some of the most weirdly disengaged turns I can recall.

Mackenzie Rosman and Sloane Coe are a couple of sisters who lose their dad to the ghost shark in the opening scene, yet it seems more like someone told them they were grounded for a week. Even their obviously ADRed lines practically announce their disinterest. I’m almost fascinated with how bad and calculated it seems to be: even Moll, who is ostensibly the adult in the room here, pretty much zones out for the entire movie. Even in the acting department, Ghost Shark aspires to be bad in its very specific, unique way. It’s almost confirms that attempting to make a film subtly bad is more effective.

Not that subtlety is exactly a sustained goal here. Ghost Shark is an over-the-top, self-aware affair that goes out of its way to quote Jaws at least a few times (though, in a nice “twist,” it actually has its asshole mayor attempt to confront the shark himself on the high seas). But even this is somehow tolerable because the plot so casually escalates from “Jaws with a ghost” to some whackadoo gibberish involving an old town legend about a haunted cave. It’s weaved into the lighthouse operator’s tragic history in an almost galling attempt at tearjerker nonsense. Nevermind that this is a film that features a shark’s ghost devouring a guy in a toilet. Hell, nevermind that this movie is titled Ghost Shark.

So many films would leave it at that: “Ghost Shark—get it?!” This one, however, goes the extra half-mile—it’s surely bad, but it’s distinctively so. Where I won’t be able to pick most of these things out of a lineup if my life depended on it, I will at least remember Ghost Shark as the only one that dared to echo everything from The Fog to Ghoulies—and that has to count for something.

*Had I known that fellow creature feature aficionado Scott Foy was among the credited screenwriters, I may have given Ghost Shark a chance much sooner than I did. I'm glad that at least one of us is out there trying to make better versions of these movies.

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