Shark movies are essentially broken down into three tiers. The first tier has Jaws, which chomps down on most competitors. The second includes the worthy efforts that have good characters and a sense of fun or dread. And then there’s the lowest tier with titles like Sharknado. Yes, I admit it, I’m not a fan. I grew up watching every cheap sci-fi film I could, but everyone has their limit. Combining sharks with other elements usually falters for me unless it’s the cool laser sharks of Aquaman. But I digress.
So what does it take for a shark movie to at least be good? Personally, I think it’s any film that can find the right balance. How much violence is needed? How much should we care about the characters? What dramatic speeches will be stated near the water? I’ve only seen a handful that reach the second tier and, with quarantine keeping many indoors, I decided to revisit one of my childhood favorites, a fun little thriller called Deep Blue Sea.
The basic premise is similar to Jurassic Park, but I’ll break it down. Russel Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson) travels to a facility he’s funding that has been experimenting on three mako sharks. These sharks have become bigger, fiercer, and evidently smarter as the scientific team led by Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) tries to extract data from the creatures now larger brains. The cure for Alzheimer’s may be one needle away. When a tropical storm begins and the sharks begin to act up, the group finds themselves trapped underwater at risk of being eaten, drowned, or cooked alive in an oven.
So why this movie? For starters, I cared about the characters and their philosophies. As the survivors struggle to reach the next level of the base, I always find myself engaged. While Thomas Jane as a shark wrangler meets the action checklist, there’s plenty else to digest aside from the occasional cast member. LL Cool J as the cook, adequately named Preacher, walks the line between simple comic relief and the deeper struggles one would try to deflect in the face of danger. Jackson has one of his most memorable moments, the kind I wish I could’ve witnessed in theaters as a kid. The rest of the cast is more than adequate, and director Renny Harlin realizes that fun and horror can mix, even in an R-rated movie.
Is the plot a bit ridiculous? Most definitely. Some of the chess games that are supposedly played by the sharks on the humans are obviously the writers giving us a plot, but oh, what a fun plot it is. Sometimes you just want to sit back and enjoy the ride. Some of the shark effects have not held up well, while others, particularly made with animatronics, would frighten me almost as much as the real thing. Add to that a rather moving score by Trevor Rabin and you have a movie worth watching, at least once for the bloody bits, and once for the grins and laughs. The sequel is another matter entirely.
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