Shark Night (2011)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-09-05 01:25

Written by: Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg
Directed by: David R. Ellis
Starring: Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, and Chris Carmack

Reviewed by: Brett G.

Your worst fear is about to surface.

It looks like studio execs everywhere are beginning to clue in on what a lot of us have known for a long time: that shark movies are by and large very bad. However, so many of them are so earnest despite their ineptitude, which only really compounds the problem. Forgive the obvious metaphor, but it looks like the tide is beginning to turn with the various atrocities perpetrated by SyFy, which embrace the silliness of the whole thing. I can only assume that Shark Night is out of that same mold, as surely no one could have written something this ridiculous while keeping a straight face.

As the semester winds down at Tulane University, a group of students head down to Saraís (Sara Paxton) island retreat situated on a nearby lake. Their weekend of debauchery is soon interrupted when they discover that the lake is swarming with sharks--hammerheads, goblins, bulls, you name it--thereís practically an entire aquarium waiting to devour the cast. Theyíll get no help from the locals, either, as a couple of shady guys from Saraís past may be responsible for the sharksí unnatural presence.

Shark Night almost represents a perfect merger between a shark movie and a slasher; after a courtesy introduction of our bait, er, characters, it moves right ahead to the business of picking them off through a series of ludicrous events. Itís a truly preposterous film, but itís actually a little sly in its ability to keep the action moving almost despite itself. Though itís aggressive in its clichťs (we learn early on that thereís absolutely no cell phone reception), Shark Night has an almost admirable dedication to its premise, which really shouldnít work. After all, canít these characters just, you know, stay inside and out of the water? They donít, of course, as the movie finds a lot of clever reasons for them to brave the waters; these reasons range from believable to downright absurd, but I found it hard not to smile at a one armed guy wading into the lake with a spear to avenge his dead girlfriend.

The movie just sort of continues to escalate in that sort of outrageous fashion. Director Ellis is well-versed in this sort of stuff, having brought us Cellular, two of the Final Destination movies, and Snakes on a Plane. I donít know if youíd call him an auteur, but hereís a guy that knows how to embrace a silly concept and find the entertainment within it. Say what you want about Shark Night, but boring it isnít; likewise, it really might as well be one of those SyFy ventures, albeit with a bigger budget, but it mostly works just because youíre not sure where itís going. Youíll have to see for yourself just why and how thereís a whole mess of sharks in a Bayou lake, but itís quite a wacky villainous plot if there ever was one.

You know how Mr. Big wanted to drop James Bond into a vat of sharks to get some perverse amusement out of it? Well, itís kind of like that here, only itís actually crossed with a completely unsubtle commentary on moral relativism and cinematic voyeurism. One of the filmís villains ponders just how many people would pay to watch some really hardcore shit that Shark Week canít air, which I guess forces you to wonder why youíre paying to see a bunch of people get eaten in Shark Night itself. A meta commentary on horror cinema and snuff flick culture a la Video Violence? Maybe.

Okay, thatís probably overestimating Shark Nightís intelligence quite a bit because itís primarily concerned with gobbling up the cast in grand fashion. This is one area where the film falters because something this over-the-top deserves an R-rating. I know that PG-13 horror is an easy target thatís been hammered for years, but itís a detriment here because, as Piranha 3D proved last year, a grand display of splattery grue mixes well with laughs (whether theyíre intended or not--letís just say thereís a lot to chuckle at). Shark Night still manages a couple of memorable kill sequences, such as one involving a jet ski and a flying great white (!) that demands to be seen. The sharks themselves look fine; some are obviously CGI and are made to look all the more cartoonish by the 3D gimmick, but thereís also some animatronic work thatís nice to see.

And make no mistake, this is pure sharkploitation; itís certainly not interested in being much more than that because the characters are just here to spout ridiculous dialogue and fill out the expected clichťs (and, in some cases, bikinis--those of you who have been waiting to see Katharine McPhee half-naked since American Idol, this is the movie for you!). I did enjoy seeing Donal Logue pop in and affect quite a goofy southern accent as the lake sheriff (apparently, thatís his only jurisdiction). By normal standards, Shark Night is a bad movie, but you probably already know that; however, even more importantly, it knows that about itself, so youíre laughing right along with it as it swallows logic and taste along with its cast. All told, Iíd probably have to declare it to be one of the top five killer shark movies of all time--which isnít saying much, of course. Rent it!

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