When asked how many animal species exist, scientists estimate that the answer’s anywhere between 10 and 100 million. Now, that’s a whole lot of creatures running about. So then why has Hollywood limited itself to only a handful? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a thriller revolving around genetically-altered giraffes or a monstrous salmon for once? Easily, the most exploited are sharks. They must have sad lives; whenever they’re not hunted by fishermen, or used as synonyms for thieves, bluffers, and liars alike, they are looked at as a universal icon for death. Yes, life must’ve been good before 1975’s “Jaws” ruined their chances of ever becoming a household pet (unless, of course, you’re a criminal mastermind — then it’s stylish to own a pair). Laying down the blueprint for all deep-sea terrors to come, the proto-blockbuster inspired boatloads of unworthy rip-offs, of which is David R. Ellis’ Shark Night 3D, which follows a troupe of rowdy college students who retreat to their friend’s lake house in the Louisiana Gulf for some rest and relaxation, is one. Unfortunately, the plans to wash down a few beers and go for a swim are squashed when a band of sharks start to terrorize the vacationers.
On the menu are Malik (Sinqua Walls), a young sportsman celebrating his planned engagement to Maya (Alyssa Diaz), Nick (Dustin Milligan), an aspiring doctor, Gordon (Joel David Moore), a clueless gamer, Beth (Katharine McPhee), the rebellious one, Blake (Chris Zylka), a nude-model, and Sara (Sara Paxton), former resident of the Bayou and owner of the home away from home. Upon arrival, they bump into Dennis (Chris Cormack), Sara’s hunky ex-boyfriend and Red (Joshua Leonard), his fish-faced partner. Of course, being intercity folk, hillbillies are bound to raise a few alarms. Thankfully, they have the free-spirited Sherriff Sabin (Donal Logue) to protect them if the natives turn out to be, you know, fucking insane.
And the locals turn out to be the scariest part of the film. From the moment we meet them, there’s a perverted bait shop owner, who, with a camera that’s installed in the ladies’ room, watches his female clientele from the counter. Red is a loose-cannon with freakishly sharp teeth. And Dennis, well, he’s one of those guys that you wouldn’t expect would live without his morning latte and a power-run, but whose lack of impulse control is enough to explain why he chooses to hang around the swamplands.
Actually, thinking back, the sharks themselves aren’t that intimidating (granted you stay out of the water). In fact, I found the bite sized cookie-cutters (a breed native to the Indo-Pacific region) a tad cute. And, if it hadn’t been for the film, I wouldn’t have known that they swallow their own teeth, as it’s the only source of calcium available to them (I understand I could’ve easily went on Wikipedia and learned this, but come on, I’m trying to look at the positives here).
It quickly becomes a sad testament when Sara’s canine companion becomes the most-developed of the cast. Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg’s script is devoid of all character development and often tries to be cheeky in spite of the fact that the screenwriters just aren’t funny. As expected, there’s an instant romance between Nick and Sara, who still suffers from her tumultuous relationship with Dennis, which, left him scarred, and her, almost dead.
Alas, there’s a not-so shocking revelation in the second act. As it turns out, the sharks hadn’t exactly planned to venture out as far as they did. As alluded to in the trailer for Shark Night 3D, they were dumped into the lake for a purpose. In Ellis’ follow-up to his abysmal, “The Final Destination,” the villains’ (who shall remain unnamed) motives are to record the creatures killing their prey, hoping to make a quick buck off those that want a sicker alternative to Shark Week. Not only is that utterly ridiculous, but it’s accompanied by, not only an overly-didactic rant about how children can download equally-violent recordings on the internet, but also with an ill-placed reference to Morgan Freeman’s narration in “March of the Penguins.”
There is a certain flair about the direction, though. Granted, the 3D is mostly a shameless cash-in, but it works surprisingly well during the underwater scenes, where the effect creates an immersive environment. However, these moments are scattered in-between terribleness. But another commendable touch is the soundtrack, a heavy-metal ode to the B-movies that Shark Night 3D tries to recreate.
And believe me, there’s nothing wrong with being cheesy entertainment. In fact, I appreciate such films for their willingness to abandon ship and do their own thing. That being said, there still has to be something that attracts audience members. Usually, in schlockfests like this, it’s either nudity or gratuitous violence. Here, there’s neither. Instead, Shark Night 3D is let down by a PG-13 rating and would much rather focus in on the characters and scares — an admirable decision that might’ve worked, had they not been shallower than the lake itself.