Because its concept was so very new and cutting edge, Jaws knocked us flat with terror and awe. Its pioneering, nature-based violence, implicit and explicit was somehow beyond the pale and yet acceptable. It became cinematic history.
Dread was created judiciously, slowly and relentlessly through inspired camera work, editing and scripting, and it was never rammed down our throats.
Shark Night 3D, some 36 years later, is a return to the dark ages of horror films, to the world of second rate frights as in The Blob, Plan Nine From Outer Space and whathaveyou. What we have is an under written, an obvious approximation of horror, marred by an agenda of fast, fast fast for the attention impaired.
Today’s sophisticated audiences who appreciate a primal jolt every once in a while also like their films smart and nicely paced. A solid story helps.
One of the problems of Shark Night is its shapelessness. The situations faced by our preppy heroes weekending at an island lake home are kind of piled up and on top of each other, separately, unlinked to each other artistically.
They are true “events”, separate, short, episodic and as a result are emotionally detached. The outcomes of these events are telegraphed in a kind of classic “wait for it…!!” from stem to stern.
A group of college friends, the nerd with glasses, the party boy, the minority guy, the edgy girl, the sports hunk, the Hispanic girl and the blonde cutie trek up to the blonde’s remote mansion on a Louisiana lake. They are vaguely threatened by “locals” (isn’t it always the locals?) at the bait shop and chased friendly by the beer swilling sheriff.
There’s no cell phone coverage and for some reason, there isn’t a landline in this massive, conspicuously expensive home (cue Twilight Zone theme). As for staying connected to civilization, there’s a motor boat, a Jet Ski and a flare.
There are sharks in the waters of this inland lake, an unusual occurrence as sharks dwell in the salt water of the oceans. Sharks are the last thing on the preppy’s minds. So when one of them loses an arm in a surprise attack, it takes an attitude adjustment.
All hell breaks loose, and before long, the creepy locals drop anchor in response to the preppy’s emergency flare. Things get more exciting when we learn the truth behind their double dealings. The truth is a whopper, to be sure.
Shark Night 3D is pretty fast paced, and the 3D is nice, but the meat’s missing. Stereotypes rule – southern backwoods racists, the evil sheriff, the tattooed, edgy girl whose fate recalls the tattoo parlors needles, the sweet, naïve blonde, even the dog.
These clichés don’t allow us to develop empathy, so they have little emotional connection to the audience. I would like to feel something when folks are eaten by sharks, but, instead, I just don’t care.
However, that’s probably the way they want it. The filmmakers are onto a young demographic with a short attention span. Rather than seething dread, it’s chop, tear, blood. And repeat. So while the film doesn’t meet with the sensibilities of those of us who think Jaws is a meaningful experience, it will find its audience.
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Written by Will Hayes, Jesse Studenberg
Directed by David R. Ellis
Opens: Sept 2
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for violence and terror, disturbing images, sexual references, partial nudity, language and thematic material