Sunday, September 4, 2011


The appeal of Shark Night 3D is exactly at the level of watching attractive twenty-somethings walk around in bathing suits before getting devoured by special effects. It comes advertised as a PG-13 horror movie about college kids spending some of their summer at a remote beach house on a lake that is suddenly and confusingly full of sharks. You certainly can’t fault the movie for false advertising.

Director David R. Ellis brings us another horror movie cut like an action flick. His Final Destination 2 and even Snakes on a Plane benefit from the eventful buzz, the constant propulsive tension that he brings. (It’s no wonder that his best film is Cellular, his only pure actioner). In Shark Night 3D, as soon as college girl Sara (Sara Paxton) arrives in Louisiana with a group of vacationing college clich├ęs (Dustin Milligan, Katharine McPhee, Chris Zylka, Alyssa Diaz, Joel David Moore, and Sinqua Walls) in route to her parents’ lake house, they get in a choppy boat chase with the scruffy local police officer (Donal Logue). They’re not in trouble; he just likes giving kids a hard time.

Now that the screenplay from Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg has established that this group of young people are staying in the middle of nowhere with only a goofy cop to watch out for them, it’s time for the sharks to start attacking. The sharks show up with all the regularity of action sequences and are shot in the zippy action style that the early boat chase sets the pattern for. The first victim is bitten while water skiing, sending the others into a bit of a panic. The attacks continue, escalating in their scope. It’s not long before a shark collides with a boat sending it malfunctioning into a dock where there is a large explosion that sends debris flying towards the audience.

The victims’ attempts to fight back or flee are presented in visually expansive ways. This is no close and creepy horror thriller. These people are trapped in the expanse of wilderness where you can attempt to flee by Jet Ski but you might not get very far. In addition to the sharks, the college kids are creeped out by skeevy locals (Chris Carmack, Joshua Leonard, and Jimmy Lee Jr.) who are incorporated into the chomping story quickly enough. The sharks in this movie are awfully stubborn things, leaping out of the water or swimming great distances just to bite someone. This being a PG-13 movie, their snacking just turns the water red, but there is enough quick-cut visceral impact to make quite clear the fate of these poor pieces of shark bait.

There’s not much to the movie, when all is said and done. It’s nothing more than a delivery device for attractive performers, low-level thrills and modestly effective B-movie baloney. There are some fun spills, some vaguely likable caricatures, and a handful of enjoyably predictable beats, nearly everything an earnest, underachieving, 30-years-too-late Jaws rip-off could be. The filmmakers didn’t set their goals very high and therefore managed to meet them. As a last weekend of summer time waster, it’s not entirely terrible. It’s not, strictly speaking, good, but “not entirely terrible” felt just good enough at the time.

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