Movie Review: Shark Night 3D (2011)
Modern sharks breathe by ram ventilation, a process that forces water into their mouths and then processes it as they swim forward. When they’re idle, sharks use muscles around the mouth to pull water in and over their gills. Sharks that don’t have muscles strong enough to do the job must take shorter and less frequent rest stops.
Athlete-chieftain Malik (Sinqua Walls), shortly after he is informed of his girlfriend’s death by shark, having lost his right arm to a bloodthirsty beast some scenes prior, adopts a principle similar in objective to lex talionis or “eye for an eye:” the sharks took one of his, so he will take one of theirs.
Sheriff Greg Sabin (Donal Logue), on the clock, rather than looking out across the lake, seeing a flare shot off by the stranded undergraduates, and responding admirably, instead feverishly drums and strums away, his cruiser’s driver-side door open and he, inside, unaware, a heavy metal ballad emanating loudly from within.
Early on, what is at stake for Shark Night 3D’s viewership under David R. Ellis’ direction (Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco, Snakes on a Plane, The Final Destination) is made evident: the film will operate within the parameters of the horror genre model, like so many creature-features before it, will adhere to those parameters no matter the sacrifice—character, pacing, and plausibility chief among those concerns for any auteur, beginning, middling, acclaimed, or otherwise.
Of the average 30 to 50 shark attacks reported each year, only 5 to 10 prove to be fatal. So while being bitten by a shark is rare, dying from a shark bite is even rarer.
SN3D’s plot is by no means poetic. Seven Tulane University undergraduates embark on a vacation to celebrate their athlete-chieftain’s receiving a “B+” on a math exam. The plan is to party, drink, hook up, and have all sorts of fun under the sun. The group decides that the proper spot for such recreation is at Sara Palski’s (Sara Paxton) family vacation home on a private lake. Little do they know that the lake plays host to an eclectic variety of shark, all of which exhibit the most unnatural, insatiable appetite. The sharks’ origins are only fleetingly remarked upon, their bizarre bloodlustings consequence of nothing, no one. When the group encounters sinister local divers Dennis Crim (Chris Carmack) and Red (Joshua Leonard) on their way to the vacation site, tensions boil. The encounter nearly ends in blows, but is broken up by Sara.
Sara is, of course, familiar with Dennis because of her previous lake-stays with family. Her familiarity toward Dennis is displayed not in flashback or via voice-over narration, but by her casting a reflective gaze in Dennis’ direction when he and Red depart.
The seven undergraduates meet the hungry sharks during their recreation and in their terror come to understand a little more about, well, survival. Those that make it.
As sensational as shark attacks are in newspaper headlines, the reality is that you’re more likely to be bitten by another person than a shark.
I appreciate SN3D for its declarative plot devices—sticking to a linear narrative once employed, forfeiting succumbing to any sort of twist-ending scenario, working so dedicatedly within the tried and true parameters of the horror genre model, to the point of depicting its characters as types—I have even been forthright to a friend online about my appreciation for said devices—but at the same time I also realize the ridiculousness in harboring such unflinching sentiment for a film like SN3D. A film sloppily paced and laughably evidenced—the various shark species are monstrous, but why?
SN3D rebels within the model’s established parameters but does so only halfheartedly and only infrequently. I watched SN3D three times—two of those viewings occurred back-to-back—in an effort to gleam something more, but afterward posited that SN3D is relevant only because it worked within the horror genre model. By applying types to characters, SN3D enacts its innermost lazy Kaufman or Coen brother, says something about genre, or tries to. Sure, maybe there are larger issues present that I might try to swing a bat at, given time, issues that SN3D might unintentionally broach in one of its many pop culture references—media’s simultaneous rejection and glorification of violence, the ever-present erosion or restructuring of modern social relationships because we are all in fact “typed” by the internet and social media sites, made to construct our own brand identities, else we be rejected—but this film does not do enough with those issues to warrant their discussion here.
Once this fact is realized by its viewership, that SN3D does nothing more than sell and operate within a model, then the thin aims of the film are seemingly all at once exhausted. SN3D is essentially ineffective film matter, tossed upon some beach’s shore by an inconsiderate local, whisked out to sea that very same night by a dutiful tide.
My dissatisfaction with this film rests in its inability to stick, to evoke even the slightest critical thought, though it has all of the tools, the instinct, the model. It does not survive. Cannot.
While the word “shark” may conjure up images of great whites and hammerheads, there are at least 350 shark species roaming the world’s oceans today. They vary in size and even shape, but they all tend to share similar body characteristics like large livers, flexible cartilaginous skeletons and enhanced sensory systems.
Creature-feature Shark Night 3D is at times unquestionably brilliant, then just as quickly dumb, in its manipulation of the horror genre model, the commentary the film perpetuates as a result of working within such tried and true parameters. This schizophrenic manipulation wielded under Ellis’ direction is sadly what thwarts SN3D’s attempt at establishing any sort of economy with its viewership.
Shark Night 3D. Directed by David R. Ellis. With Sara Paxton (Sara Palkis), Chris Carmack (Dennis Crim), Joshua Leonard (Red), Donal Logue (Sheriff Greg Sabin), and Sinqua Walls (Malik). Released September 4, 2011, by Rogue Pictures.
Jason Teal is a founding editor of HEAVY FEATHER REVIEW. His work has appeared in METAZEN, RED LIGHTBULBS, NAP, and SUSQUEHANNA REVIEW. His reviews have been published in MID-AMERICAN REVIEW, where he served as managing editor.