Like any self respecting shark movie, Shark Week opens with a shark attack. Unlike most self respecting shark movies however the shark in Shark Week roars like a lion as it mauls its victim. Looking back at this opening scene, I asked myself what was more improbable: the fact that an aquatic creature could sound an awful lot like an African wild cat, or that those wild cat-like noises were clearly audible, even when the shark was fully submerged. Luckily for me I didn't really ponder those questions at the time of viewing, but if you are the sort of person that does believe their enjoyment of a motion picture may be hindered by such scant regard for the laws of nature and acoustics you may wish to avoid Shark Week, as common sense and logic were tossed aside in that opening scene and were not seen or heard from again.
|Director: Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray
Starring: Patrick Bergin, Yancy Butler, Josh Allen, Erin Coker, Frankie Cullen
Screenplay: Liz Adams, H. Perry Horton
After being kidnapped by wealthy and dishevelled looking drug lord Tiberon (Patrick Bergin) and his deranged wife Layla (Hard Target's Yancy Butler), eight individuals - Police Officer Cal (Josh Allen), Journalist Reagan (Erin Coker), prosecuting attorney Holt (Bart Baggett), hired thug Frankie (Frankie Cullen), unemployed junkie Layla (Valerie K. Garcia), Judge Francine (Meredith Thomas), Accountant Roger, and Paramedic Pete - are dumped on the dishevelled looking drug lords private island and given some unfortunate news. Tiberon, it seems, has a particular grievance with each of these characters, and to settle the score he's devised a fishy game of survival that will test their stamina, resourcefulness, and their ability to avoid getting shark bit! For one week the group must wander around Tiberon's secluded island and negotiate a daily watery trap, beginning with a swimming pool filled with baby sharks on day one followed by progressively nastier species of predators in more perilous locations as the week progresses. Those who make it through Shark Week in one piece will be allowed to leave the island, while those who don't will learn that revenge is a dish best served... with killer fish!
Shark Week is certainly not the only killer shark movie churned out by low budget schlockateers The Asylum over the past decade, but while its more successful efforts like 2 Headed Shark Attack and Sharknado were built on outrageous premises and executed in the cheesiest manner imaginable, Shark Week is delivered with a much straighter face. And surprisingly, this blander tone kind of works in it favour. It's not a good movie by any stretch, but the most palatable bad movies have always been the ones that take themselves more seriously than they should, and Shark Week so desperately wants us to believe it's a genuine thriller that the absurdity of its most illogical moments is magnified tenfold. It closes its eyes and hopes it will look and feel like a Jerry Bruckheimer production on a meagre budget, but with its crude effects, hammy performances, and characters that frequently perform common sense defying acts it fails at every attempt, and I found it hard not to shake my head and grin as the whole spectacle became increasingly (and unintentionally) preposterous.
The poker faced antics begin with the setup, which doesn't pit the characters against recently defrosted prehistoric behemoths, mutated oddities, or fish that have inexplicably bonded with an unstoppable force of nature. Nope, the sharks in Shark Week are just regular old sharks, which makes their ability to roar like a big cat all the more puzzling.
The back cover describes the movie as "Saw meets Jaws!", and while the presence of a shark is about the only thing Shark Week has in common with Spielberg's classic the script does borrow a number of ideas from the Saw franchise. Like the Saw movies there's a game to be played by unwilling participants who must pass a series of tests as the madman who put the whole show together watches on, and the players are all linked by a mysterious secret. Unlike the Saw movies however there's no thriller element, as that secret is clumsily revealed early on.
Referencing the Saw movies may also conjure images of excessive bloodletting, but sadly there's none of that on display here, and while there are numerous inadequacies to laugh at throughout this movie its virtually bloodless shark attacks are no chuckling matter. The computer generated sharks look cheap and unconvincing so there's never an illusion that the characters are in genuine danger, and the attacks are an incomprehensible mess of images. The CG budget was obviously extremely limited so we only see quick flashes of the attacking sharks, and these are intercut with blurry close ups of thrashing water and screaming onlookers, all stitched together in split second edits in a desperate attempt to disguise the fact that nothing coherent is actually playing before our eyes. Some of the effects, such as a hammerhead shark that jiggles in front of a matte black background, look more like the sort of rough previz animatics we might normally see in a making-of featurette, and the fact that anyone would consider passing these shoddy effects off as the finished product is borderline offensive.
Thankfully, the filler material in-between the shark attacks is somewhat more entertaining than the shark attacks themselves. In a refreshing change the characters are not a bunch of unlikeable tossers who whine endlessly about their predicament, and there's an affable group dynamic as the participants in Tiberon's twisted game band together to prepare for the challenges ahead. The mostly unknown cast give it a fair crack and deserve much of the credit for whatever entertainment value the movie offers, particularly our police officer hero and journalist heroine (Allen and Coker respectively) who even find time for a little romance while dodging the snapping jaws of death. Bleary eyed veterans Bergin and Butler on the other hand are responsible for a fair slab of Shark Week's "So bad it's… OK" appeal, serving up risible performances that are in no way indicative of their industry experience. A perpetually enraged Bergin cranks the ham up to Shakespearean levels and is given some bizarre wardrobe options (at one point he's decked out like an ageing rock star in a leather jacket and dark glasses and in another scene he wears a hat that would not look out of place in the Dumb and Dumber movies) while Butler slurs her lines and mopes through every scene with the exuberance of one who is only there for the money and knows there isn't a lot to go around.
The fact that the cast manages to dredge any entertainment value from the material - be it intentionally or unintentionally - is something of an achievement, as a screenplay did not appear to be high on the producers list of priorities. There's no feeling of desperation to the situation, with the characters spending much of Shark Week's running time strolling around the island, discussing their predicament and spitballing possible solutions, until the time comes to confront the next shark trap. Dialogue felt ad-libbed on occasions, and the plot - like the characters - meanders without any urgency. The whole "week long" gimmick serves no useful purpose either as there's barely enough story to fill one day, let alone seven, and the extended breaks between each shark trap only remind us of just how slowly the events are unfolding. The whole idea could have worked much better had the story been condensed into an action packed period of several hours (like the Saw sequels it's trying to imitate) but then they would have needed to change the title, and cashing-in on the name on the Discovery Channel's annual week long shark themed event was probably the main reason The Asylum gave this project the green light in the first place. On a more positive note the Saw inspired setup is at least a bit more interesting than the average made-for-cable shark movie premise (even if its execution is just as awful as the rest) and if nothing else the "game" element does provide a plausible reason for the characters to go back into the water at regular intervals, which is an area where many shark movies fast run out of ideas.
Director Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray (son of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers director Fred Olen Ray) employs various gimmicks to make Shark Week look like a major studio production with roving camera movements, rapid fire editing and an overbaked dramatic score, but this faux largesse is just another unintentionally comedic addition to what resembles nothing more than another hastily cobbled together product from The Asylum's direct-to-cable assembly line. The Asylum are notorious for their fast turnarounds and nothing in this movie appears to have been given much attention, yet for all its faults it never slows to the point of tedium, and the prospect of seeing the movie plunge further into the depths of stupidity is oddly compelling. Indeed, those who can make it through the rough patches will witness an utterly ridiculous final 30 minutes as events go beyond farcical, all without any sign of a knowing wink from the filmmakers. In what is supposed to be one of Shark Week's heart stopping moments the characters run through a minefield and are chased by explosions that look like they were created on a free mobile app. Later, a character dangles their arm in the water and attempts to feed a salvaged landmine to one of the sharks, and in Shark Week's most outstanding sequence two burly male characters battle a shark in waist deep water - one holding the writhing fish aloft on the end of a spear as the other frantically pounds its thick skin with a hunting knife. And if that's not enough there's even a clumsily staged girl-on-girl smackdown before the credits roll. Shark Week is a movie where the negatives far outweigh the positives and the only significant talking points are its inadequacies (the cut rate effects, and performances from Bergin and Butler in particular), yet despite its seemingly endless cavalcade of faults it's a hard movie to genuinely dislike. Sure, it's a little too slick and nowhere near ambitious or deluded enough to be a truly spectacular "so bad it's good" train wreck in the same league as Birdemic or Tommy Wisseu's The Room, but its obliviousness to its more obvious faults should provide fodder enough for bad movie buffs to mock while enjoying a few cold ones. Those looking for a legitimately tense and visceral shark movie experience will find no such luxuries here.