‘Great White’ movie review: Aussie shark flick strands Katrina Bowden at sea

A pair of great white sharks terrorize a group of five stranded on a life raft off the Australian coast in Great White, a beautifully-shot new shark film sunk by some brief but unfortunate CGI gaffes and climactic abandonment of all logic. Still, if you liked The Shallows, this one rates about as good.

30 Rock’s Katrina Bowden stars as Kaz, an American export living on the coast of Australia whose husband Charlie (Aaron Jakubenko) flies tourists to deserted locales in his seaplane. Business hasn’t been great, but a surprise call lands him a lucrative job flying wealthy newlyweds out to a local island with a dark history.

Together with his wife and “chef” Benny (Te Kohe Tuhaka), Charlie takes Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi) and Joji (Tim Kano) out to Hell’s Reef, where Michelle’s grandfather was once stranded during WWII.

But the discovery of a shark-bit body turns the idyllic island retreat into a potential rescue mission. Charlie calls in authorities, but they won’t arrive until the following morning; Kaz finds evidence on the corpse’s phone, meanwhile, that a companion may be stranded at sea somewhere nearby.

Despite some in-fighting among the group, Charlie takes the lead as the quintet takes to the skies and scans for a yacht. Unfortunately, when they find it and land nearby, a great white pops up out of the water and takes a bite out of the seaplane. This leaves the group stranded in a life raft at sea for the remainder of the movie as sharks hunt them down and pick them off one-by-one.

Great White features a fine setup for a shark movie, but the inciting incident raises red flags. In what is otherwise a beautifully-shot production, a cartoon shark head pops out of the water and sinks the seaplane. It’s only a split-second, but the Sharknado-level effects work pulls you right out of the movie at the worst possible time.

The sharks in Great White also don’t behave like sharks — or any other predator. A pair of them are hunting together (Charlie’s marine biologist pays some lip service to a theory about sharks hunting in packs), but they only take a small nibble from their first two victims, allowing our heroes to find the corpses. Why are they stalking around for more humans if they didn’t even finish eating the first two? Are they hunting for sport?

By the end of the film, characters are shooting flare guns into the mouths of sharks – as a distraction – while others swim up onto their backs, mount them like horses, and unleash a flurry of stabs to the head.

Our once-realistic Open Water-like shark movie, in other words, has now become a parody. Something similar happened at the end of The Shallows, but most critics and audiences didn’t seem to mind. YMMV.

Worse, while the sharks are CGI creations, the underwater effects are much better than those above water, and the gruesome means of dispatching the animals starts to feel too much. It doesn’t help that the sound designers give them a whale-like sonar. By the end of Great White, you might be feeling more sympathy for the sharks than the humans.

Promotional material tout Great White as coming from the producers of 2010’s The Reef; that film, which more closely followed the Open Water template, is a good comparison and a notch better. Among other recent shark movies, 47 Meters Down remains the film to beat.


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.

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