Written by: Phillip J. Roth (story), Sam Wells (screenplay)
Directed by: Matt Codd
Starring: Antonio Sabato Jr., Christian Toulali, and Grand L. Bush
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“It's a goddamn train with teeth!"
Between breakthroughs with computer graphics and digital photography, filmmaking advanced rapidly around the turn of the century, unleashing filmmakers’ imaginations to envision spectacle on a scope and scale that was once deemed improbable and impractical. Possibilities were limitless: otherworldly landscapes, strange creatures, epic adaptations of source material that would have been otherwise impossible to bring to the screen. Also: big-ass killer sharks. Perhaps spurred by the popularity of Steve Alten’s Meg, several films during this period attempted to bring the extinct prehistoric species back to life on the direct-to-video market, where absolutely none of what I just said about limitless possibilities really applied. First among them, and a daring pioneer of this era of high-ambition, no-budget frontier, was Shark Hunter, a film so odious it can’t even truly deliver on its title. That’s right: there are no true shark hunters in Shark Hunter.
But what it does have is Spencer Northcut (Antonio Sabato Jr.), whose idyllic childhood outing with his family is completely wrecked when a megalodon attacks the family boat and devours both of his parents. Left adrift at sea and in life, the traumatic event haunts him into adulthood, where he becomes an engineering professor, who spends his days like most academics do: delivering dull lectures to disinterested students and bristling at professional slights. For example, he’s recently been told he won’t be able to come aboard a submarine he recently developed since it’s apparently some kind of pariah. However, when an underwater research facility explodes during a mysterious collision, the same group that kept Spencer out of the cool kids club come desperately crawling, hoping he’ll come aboard the sub after all to determine what happened to the facility.
For the audience—and Spencer, who has spent his entire life trying to convince folks a prehistoric shark ate his family—there is no mystery. It’s a big fuckin’ shark. But that doesn’t stop the film from dragging things out, as the characters seem to debate endlessly. The nature of the production is sort of a Catch-22: the CGI is still so primitive that you don’t really want to see much of the shark, which looks like a cartoon that’s been cut and pasted into a live action movie. However, being stranded with a bunch of boring, lifeless characters isn’t a much better alternative. It’s no surprise that pretty much nothing about Shark Hunter works.
Anyone familiar with this very specific milieu of killer shark movies also won’t be surprised in the very distinct way Shark Hunter is bad. There’s a severe lack of action. Dialogue is barely functional. A character “quips” that they’re “gonna need a bigger sub” because it's clearly a good idea to remind folks that they could be watching Jaws instead. The entire production looks like it was shot inside of a vacuum cleaner bag. Repetitive music—whose main motif sounds suspiciously like Elfman’s Batman theme—drones on endlessly, while most of these characters are unnecessarily hostile towards each other. Spencer doesn’t exactly invite such a response because that would imply that Sabato has even a little bit of personality. Instead, everyone bickers because, well, that’s what you do in claustrophobic horror movies, I guess. There has to be some drama when you’re hesitant to show off your giant shark, even if the likes of Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss aren’t walking through that door.
Once the megalodon bursts through a hatch in the facility, everyone mercifully comes around to the truth. Not that it stops the bickering, of course, because now they’ve got to debate a course action. Spencer, who is convinced this is the same shark that killed his family 25 years ago, insists they should track it down and kill it. Another scientist (Heather Marie Marsden) on board is a big fan of capturing the beast and studying it, even though a regular-sized great white has never been held in captivity. This wouldn’t have happened if she’d seen Jaws 3. At any rate, simply waiting around for a rescue vessel and getting the hell out of dodge doesn’t seem to be an option. Don’t ask me how these people are supposed to represent to best and the brightest of us. Man’s hubris truly knows no bounds.
Speaking of, let’s give a shout out to the cast and crew of Shark Hunter for trying to make an epic killer shark movie even though they had no business doing so on this budget. Whether they knew it or not thankfully isn’t reflected in the final product: this is an honest-to-god attempt at doing a megalodon movie, complete with a deadly serious protagonist’s deadly serious quest to exact revenge on a beast that may or may not have eaten his family. No matter how absurd it seems or how poor the effects are, the film remains sincere in its goal to thrill its audience. Doing so successfully is an entirely different matter since Shark Hunter turns out to be a slog that can’t even live up to its title, unless you count the climactic confrontation between Spencer and the beast. I’m not quite sure firing a couple of torpedoes at a giant fish really certifies someone as a shark hunter, but I'm not handing out the licenses, either.
Shark Hunter does heave a Hail Mary in a last-ditch effort to save face: just when it looks like this is going to be one of the most forgettable movies that’s ever passed right through your brain, it pulls out a remarkably grim ending. It’s almost like everyone involved knew nobody would actually care about these disposable characters, so they become just that: completely and utterly disposable. I’m not sure if I’d call it nihilistic, but maybe it was just a matter of practicality: why worry about a bunch of loose ends and having to film rescue scenes when you can just have the entire cast bite it and slam directly to the credits just north of 90 minutes. Better for all involved, especially an audience that certainly has better things to do with their time—unless they’re a masochist for all things related to killer shark movies. So, me, basically, and even I had trouble prying my eyelids open for most of the runtime.
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