Thursday, May 2, 2013

Shark Attack Summer: SHARK NIGHT 3D (2011)

It's amazing to think that after all of the virtual reams of digital paper that we have pounded out over the past few years on this blog, there are still scads of our favorite subgenres that we haven't even bothered talking about. It's time to mark one of those off the list.

Likely, you are like us and have seen an absurd number of horror movies. There comes a point in every Video Junkie's life where horror films cease to be really scary, and we look back fondly on the days that they were. Remember the first time you saw PHANTASM? Yeah, then you know what I mean. The exception to this sad phenomena of jadedness, at least for me, is the aquatic horror film. When I was a kid, about four or five, I almost drowned. If some random, reasonably athletic, guy hadn't been walking by as I was desperately trying to grow gills, this blog would be titled "Feast Your Eyes" and be written entirely by my colleague from the Williamsburg Colony. I hope, where ever that random, reasonably athletic man is, he appreciates this simple fact.

I'm pretty sure this experience gave me a justifiable fear of water, compounded by the, what I believe to be, completely rational fear of things that live in it. The point being, aquatic horror movies still have the power to ruin my sofa cushions. Things in the water look freaky and even the most hack filmmaker can stick a shark in the camera lens and make an audience recoil in their seats. Even rubber, toothy aquatic lifeforms can dig at that primal instinct to cut and run. For some reason that no psychologist can really adequately explain, this means fun! So where did this movie go so terribly wrong?

Directed by veteran stuntman and former Disney child actor, David R. Ellis, the movie takes it's first misstep with the opening credits. Grainy, monochrome red and black stock footage of sharks in 2D with 3D titles. It's got to get better than this, right? Eh, no. The opening hook has a couple of over-aged kids frolicking in the water with the requisite goofing off (and underwater 3D shot of bikini-clad bootay), leading to one of them being mauled by a shark off screen. Sort of like the opening of JAWS (1975), except without the nudity, the score, the cinematography, the atmosphere, the acting or the tension. Other than that, just like it.

Cut to random institute of allegedly higher learning where we meet our presumed shark-fodder: An African-American jock, Malik (Sinqua Walls) who got a B+ on some exam, so to celebrate he's taking his uber-nerd buddy Nick (Dustin Milligan), uber-douche hipster guy (Joel David Moore, who else?), and a couple of girls with barely any backstory (one is a "bad" girl because she is getting a back tat while on her cell phone), to Sara's house for a weekend rager. Unfortunately Sara (Sara Paxton) is from the Louisiana bayou and her house is in the middle of BFE swampland (well, actually the upscale Cross Lake in Shreveport, but who's gonna know?). You know what that means. Shit gonna go down! Oh, sorry, it's a PG-13 movie, so uhhhh.. Stuff gonna go down!

One long, undercranked pop-music filled road montage later, the group meets up with a couple of local hicks while buying likker at a bait shop. Since they are edgee-cayted city folk, this can only go in one direction. Down. One of the hicks, Dennis (Chris Carmack), has a nasty scar on his face from a boating accident and apparently has some history with Sara. Obviously this will not figure into the plot in any way after this moment. Nope, not at all. The other yokel is Red (Joshua Leonard), who has his teeth filed to a point like a... well, shark. In addion to his fetching looks, he is quite the charmer and calls Malek "boy". Yeah, nothing suspicious there, cue next undercranked pop-music montage!

After a boat race with the local Sheriff (who listens to RATT, pounds beers and acts the fool), our ethnically diverse ensemble goes out for a bit of water-skiing. Just like JAWS 2, except for the... oh, never mind. Anyway, while Malik's stunt double busts some moves on the water, a full half an hour into the movie... something attacks him. Next thing you know, Malik is missing an arm and the kids realize they are trapped in the middle of the bayou with no phone (Sara's po' cajun folk have no phone... just a multi-million dollar house and a $50K speedboat), no cellphone reception and no boat because the shark rammed the engine until it burst into flames causing it to veer off course and run into the gas pump on the dock. This is not before the unseen shark manages to chomp down (off camera) on Malik's latina girlfriend (Alyssa Diaz). That's right, in 2012 we are still dispatching the ethnic characters first. Actually, that doesn't even hold a candle to the scene in which the filmmakers without a hint of irony have our one-armed black man swearing vengeance while shaking a spear. This is 2012, isn't it? Damn, I can't imagine why they didn't work a Popeye's product placement in there as well.



If you want to watch the movie spoiler free, skip this paragraph... Ok, ready? As it turns out, the hicks that the kids met while they were buying Red Bull and vodka (peeps still be drinkin' that?), are bad men (big spoiler there) who have infested the waters with sharks (major spoiler coming) outfitted with cameras so that they can make snuff films which they watch on their laptops and cell phones! I'm going to pause for a minute to let that sink in. Really, I'm not making this up. See, they are actually big shark fans and since Shark Week on the Discovery channel is so popular, they reckon there has to be a market for people that want something "edgier" (yes, they actually use that word).

If nothing else, first time feature writers, Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg know their cliches and aren't afraid to hit them with a 20lb sledge. They are very careful to only borrow the lame parts of established classics. For instance we have just the lame ethnically diverse cast, seemingly from a FRIDAY THE 13th movie, but none of the creative elements, atmosphere, gore or nudity. They add a dog to the mix early on so that when the villains are mean to it, we know they are bad, bad men. Never mind that they are throwing people into shark infested waters, that poor dog! They hit the cliches, but they can't even exploit the three simple ideas presented by the film's title. There are barely any sharks, it takes place almost entirely during the day and it's mostly in 2D! Talk about half-assing your concept.

In addition to the ludicrous plot (that is completely non-existent until the last 20 minutes of the film), what little shark action there is, tends to be of the stick-the-camera-in-the-face-of-a-real-shark-in-a-tank or badly animated Sy-Fy style sharks flying out of the water to grab people off jetskis. If that wasn't bad enough, the 3D is almost nowhere to be found, which is odd since it was shot in stereoscopic 3D, not converted in post. Ellis' previous film (ballyhooed on the poster, no less) was THE FINAL DESTINATION (2009) which set the standard for jaw-droppingly creative 3D horror effects. Of course in what is becoming typical cheap-assedness here in the US, the movie was released blu-ray in 2D only (Japan, UK, Spain, etc all have 3D releases). In the end, the movie just doesn't seem to give a crap, right down to multiple inconsistencies, including a scene in which a jerry can of gas is knocked over in a little bare-wood boathouse. A lighter hits it, the flames go up and engulf a character. That character falls in the water and we can clearly see, in an extended shot of the interior of the boathouse, that there isn't a single flame to be found! I guess the wood was too humid to burn, or the fire simply crawled up off the floor onto the character. I'm sure, that's it.

The first half hour desperately wants to be PIRANHA 3D with a PG-13 rating. This means we get the crassest dialogue that money can buy, but yet could still be printed in a family newspaper, plus several scenes of hot chicks getting topless with their backs to the camera or underwater with the camera firmly above water. This actually gets pretty funny watching the filmmakers dancing on the head of a pin. They are desperately trying to be wild, but only able to be mild. Matter of fact, it feels more restrained than a Sy-Fy outing, in as that there is nothing more offensive than bare man-ass. This is shown as one of the girls is seen taking a life-model art class. Equal time with some of the chicas? Nope, can't have that. Didn't JAWS (1975) have nudity in a PG rated film? Oh yeah, that was Spielberg. Sorry, I forgot how the rating system works. Of course my frivolous complaints about neutered "edgy" content aside, this movie still has absolutely nothing going for it, and honestly I wasn't being too demanding.

Moments of Clarity:

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  2. I think my brain melted out my ears at the snuff film reveal. How could anyone take that idea seriously!?

    This movie to me is a good example of "If it ain't broke don't fix it". All I wanted was a simple shark movie but the moment the film tried to be clever is the moment it managed to get stupider.

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