Sunday, September 16, 2012

Of sharks, snuff films and scars

(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, on 15 September 2012)



Cast: Dustin Milligan, Sara Paxton, Chris Carmack, Joshua Leonard, Donal Logue, Katharine McPhee, Joel David Moore and others
Director: David R Ellis
Rating: 2 stars
Shark Night (3D) begins like most thriller-horror films involving gore and teenager-types – with happy college kids heading off to a remote spot, on vacation from their lives of sloth. But these aren’t beach bums. One of them, Nick (Dustin Milligan) wants to be a doctor. His roommate Gordon (Joel David Moore, the wingman scientist from Avatar) wants him to lose his virginity. His friend Malik (Sinqua Walls) has got a B+ thanks to Nick’s coaching. And his other friend Blake (Chris Zylka) makes pocket money modelling for art students who paint nudes. So, you see, all these are good boys. The three girls who come along are, of course, The Vamp, The Virgin and The Girlfriend.
Nick is hitting on Sara (Sara Paxton), so naturally, everyone heads to Sara’s family cabin. As is usual in such movies, we aren’t troubled with introductions to their parents, or indeed any sphere of their lives outside of the vacation. And, of course, these are the kind of college kids who will venture into the wilderness without precautions – they know their mobile phones will be out of range, but they don’t carry walkie-talkies or any device that can send out distress signals. Sara’s family has a lovely cabin in the middle of nowhere, but hasn’t had the forethought to install a telephone in it.
Now, all we need for the romance to blossom is a jealous ex-boyfriend and a shark or two to facilitate a display of heroism. A faithful dog will help the story along, especially if he contrives to get killed more heroically than the hero. To its credit, the film doesn’t completely tread the beaten path. It links some of its sub-plots to create a premise that may have been worth our while, if it had been less skeletal.
The film bores us into indifference in the first half, with cheap 3D effects – sharks, limbs, and voluptuous women gush through the waters at us – and cheaper one-liners. It’s populated by stock characters, who evoke no empathy from the audience. We perk up later, when the story finally takes a sinister turn, and it’s largely because the villains are somewhat interesting. But by this time, it’s too late for it to engage us.
The events in the film are precipitated by the idea that gore – like deaths caught on camera – will be lapped up by a pay-per-view audience. Lines like “There’s no such thing as ‘sick’ anymore, it’s all moral relativism” may have been more fitting in a subtler film. While there is the odd show of restraint – early on, we see an icebox marked ‘Live Bait’ – the film lacks the finesse to explore the idea thoroughly. It ends with the hint of a sequel, but since the film released in America more than a year ago, and there’s been no second edition so far, we may be spared.
The Verdict: Cheesy graphics and a mundane storyline stifle an intriguing theme, making this a run-of-the-mill shark attack movie.

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