Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Shark Week 3: 'Shark Night' (2011)

Stunt coordinator turned director David R. Ellis had just started garnering a following as a creator of entertaining, unpretentious B-movies when he passed away unexpectedly earlier this year, and it's unfortunate that Shark Night stands as his final film. Not that he was some secretly brilliant filmmaker -- his other movies include Snakes on a Plane, Cellular and the second and fourth installments of the Final Destination series -- but his name was a semi-reliable indicator of something a little more clever than the average brain-dead horror or action movie.

Shark Night doesn't quite live up to the standards of some of Ellis' previous work, although it was more enjoyable to watch than I had expected based on the terrible reviews. It basically takes the slasher-movie template and applies it to a shark movie, with a group of attractive college students taking a trip to a secluded lake house, where they get picked off one by one. Yes, the lake is full of sharks, but the movie's real villains are human beings, the kind of devious backwoods psychopaths familiar from any number of formulaic horror movies. The sharks are essentially the killers' weapons; they're the equivalent of Jason Voorhees' machete or Freddy Krueger's claw glove.

Shark Night is held back by its PG-13 rating, preventing it from including slasher-movie staples like gratuitous nudity or copious gore, but Ellis still manages to stage some creative death scenes (and he somewhat refreshingly reserves his only nudity for the backside of one of the male characters early in the movie). Donal Logue and Joshua Leonard make for amusingly sinister hicks, and the main cast of young, pretty people is at least competent. I realize that's all faint praise, and the biggest problem with Shark Night is that it completely lacks scares or suspense. The villains spend a lot of time describing the specific species of sharks that they've put in the lake, but then the CGI animals are completely unrealistic giant monsters. The movie fares better with humor (it even includes an explicit reference to shark week), but it's not quite funny enough for full-on camp. As with most of Ellis' work, it's better than it probably needed to be, but that doesn't exactly mean that it's good. If he'd been able to stick around longer, though, I bet Ellis would have gotten there eventually.

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