Friday, March 30, 2012

Shark Night (2011)

     Had I seen Shark Night (2011) in the theater, well it would have have a ridiculous 3D attached to its name and I would have gotten up to go ask for my money back (or a ticket for a different show) once the time lapse montages started.  I really don't want something that screams mid-1980s without honoring that era.  The rules for watching a movie at home are quite different however, and I found myself able to make it most of the way through the film without wondering why I had gone through the trouble to see it.  Seriously, I made it 1:17:31 into the film before I had to pause it and just figuratively scratch my head.  What else should have filled up the slot I used to make sure I got this movie?
     I guess my biggest complaint is that director David R. Ellis (former actor, former stuntman) has no idea what kind of tone he is setting.  In what should be a ridiculously funny, over-the-top absurdist commentary on horror films that rely on creatures and scary Southerners, Ellis instead seems to be all ahead full on dull and listless.  What I suppose were meant to be scary moments have all of the plausibility of the shark eating the gorilla from The Simpsons (1990-present) episode "Lisa the Vegetarian".  If you find the video scary, then Shark Night will work for you.
     It isn't as though Ellis' record is a straight string of abject disasters.  Both Final Destination 2 (2203) and Cellular (2004) are decent, engaging flicks that find a way to mix humor with tension (more humor in the former than the latter).  But one also has to look at Snakes on a Plane (2006) and The Final Destination (2009), both quite properly loathed movies.  I would have thought that TFD was so poorly received that it would have kept any studio from even thinking about letting Ellis helm a film with a budget over $20 million. But if TFD didn't kill the Final Destination series, I shouldn't expect to be strong enough to derail Ellis' career.
     The problem with Shark Night is that there is no horror, nor terror, and not really any gore.  I am not going to complain that it isn't chock full of gratuitous nudity, but it threatens to be that kind of movie without wanting to cross the threshold into being an R-rated movie.  Why is anyone making a PG-13 horror film?  The answer is because it means more teenagers can pay to see it, and that is where horror films make their bank at the box office.  The problem is that unless the writer and director commit to a slow, steady building of threat and tension, horror films need real violence, gore, and some fucking cursing.
     Borrowing too heavily from Jaws (1975), Shark Night starts – after a lengthy, off-putting title sequence – with a female swimmer getting all eaten by a shark.  Fantastic.  Because it isn't as though Jaws was about managing economic interests versus protecting the innocent people from a man-eating shark, and the struggle from three different men to work together to end the threat.  Except that it is.  Shark Night is about a bunch of leaping sharks being able to swim faster than boats and the people who apparently have some ability to dictate there whereabouts so that the sharks only pose a danger when it is convenient for the plot.  Or what passes for a plot.
     Personally, I spent a good portion of the film wondering if Chris Carmack was somehow created by splicing the DNA of Marc Singer and Casper Van Diem, or if he was just told to have his character act like he was the result of the unlikely mating of the two actors.  That happily distracted me from the fact that his character never sued the ultra-rich parents of the girl who ripped half his face off with a propeller and then used those proceeds to fund his miscreant schemes.  None of the characters are well developed, but at least the actors help that out by not doing much to make the audience care about them.
     Shark Night could have been incredibly worse, but it would have to try to be to get there.  As an attempt at competent film-making, it fails (of gets a low D), but that has to do with the undercranking (or whatever causes fast motion on digital cameras) that makes for shots that evoke memories of The Munsters (1964-66) intercut with overcranked shots (resulting in slow motion).  Then there is the poor alterations of the coloration to make scenes shot during the day look like they were done at night.  And that the shots that were done in front of a green screen can't match even that horrible look.  Here's my advice for a film that has only a $25 million budget.  Spend less on shots of sharks leaping out of the water and more on making sure the shooting script can allow for us to give a damn.

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