‘Shark Night’ movie review: Sara Paxton in freshwater 3D shark film

The popularity of cable the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week – referenced onscreen by one of the characters in Shark Night 3D – seems to be in direct opposition to the number of quality shark fiction in cinema, which you can probably count on one hand. I get one, Spielberg’s original Jaws, but you can also throw in Jaws 2, Deep Blue Sea, and Open Water if you’re feeling charitable, and films like The Reef if the prerequisite isn’t a direct focus on the sharks.

Recently, sharks have been limited to SyFy originals and direct-to-DVD fare like Sharktopus, Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus, Sharks in Venice, and the Shark Attack movies. And despite an inflated budget, state-of-the-art 3D technology, and a worldwide theatrical release, that’s where the sharks remain in Shark Night, a relentlessly derivative, dull, and frequently idiotic movie that hopes to get by on the popularity of its title creatures alone.

After an opening that blatantly cribs from Jaws, Shark Night follows a familiar group of young adults – the hero, Nick (Dustin Milligan), the good girl, Sara (Sara Foster), the bad girl (Katharine McPhee), the comic relief (Joel David Moore), the airhead jock (Chris Zylka), the token black character, Malik (Sinqua Walls), and his girlfriend (Alyssa Diaz) – to Sara’s Louisiana lakehouse, conveniently located on an isolated island without cell reception, hours from the nearest hospital.

Given that the island is surrounded by a freshwater lake, the characters are surprised when the sharks show their fins. How did they get there? Hurricane? Or maybe…someone put them there. The ultimate revelation is nothing less than insulting, and as the focus shifts away from the sharks as the film attempts in vain to explain itself, our patience wears thin.

It’s not really about the sharks at all: instead of Jaws, the film becomes an idiotic knockoff of Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs as our characters encounter backwoods hicks played by Chris Carmack and Joshua Leonard and the hard rock-lovin’ local sheriff (Donal Logue).

Most insulting is the portrayal of the sharks: here, they roar like dinosaurs, leap from the water to snatch their prey, and attack everything in sight. And they look and feel awful: despite animatronic effects credited to Walt Conti, I only ever noticed poor CGI work that makes the sharks about as convincing as those in Finding Nemo (admittedly, they are slightly better than the SyFy standard). 

There are some things CGI just can’t seem to get right, and sharks in motion – which look about the same here as in the widely ridiculed Deep Blue Sea – is apparently one of them.

Shark Night was directed by David R. Ellis, who had previously made such high-concept films as Cellular, Snakes on a Plane, Final Destination 2, and The Final Destination. Even by the standard set by those films – which knew what they were, and derived some guilty pleasure because of that – Shark Night is surprisingly poor.

The saving grace is the 3D, which is technically proficient and truly looks excellent in underwater scenes, which have a real sense of depth. In this regard, Shark Night bests the film it will be compared to, last year’s Piranha. But only in the 3D: Alexandre Aja’s film was an unexpectedly smart and funny gorefest that packed a real wallop in scenes of mass carnage (Shark Night, tamed down to a PG-13, contains no nudity and muted violence) and is highly recommended as an alternative.

Be sure to stick around after the credits for the best thing Shark Night has to offer: Shark Bite, a music video parody of the film performed by most of the main cast. It’s fun in an SNL parody kind of way, but nowhere near Land Shark.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *