Shark Night 3D (2011)

Terror runs deep.

Sharks seem to be the popular subject of B-grade fare lately with titles such as Sand Sharks (2011), Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus (2010), Super Shark (2011), Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus (2009), Dinoshark (2010) and the obscure Sharktopus (2010) all being unleashed onto audiences over past few years. Alas, it was only a matter of time until Hollywood joined the shark craze and who better than David R. Ellis — the man responsible for 2006’s nonsensical Snakes on a Plane — to take the reins. But unlike the boisterous, gory B-grade gem Piranha 3D (2010) — which Shark Night 3D is visibly trying to mimic — Ellis’ attempt is lacking what made Piranha 3D so nosey, mischievous and amusing — tongue-in-cheek self-awareness, excessive violence, gratuitous nudity and a sound comprehension of cult cinema.

Shark Night 3D starts off with the typical set-up, six College buddies from Tulane University, New Orleans, Nick (Dustin Milligan), Beth (Katharine McPhee), Malik (Sinqua Walls), Maya (Alyssa Diaz), Blake (Chris Zylka) and Gordon (Joel David Moore) are all invited by their friend Sara Palski (Sara Paxton) to spend the weekend at her saltwater lake house in Louisiana. When stopping at a rustic bait shop/ convenience store, friction builds with local residents Red (Joshua Leonard) and Dennis Crim (Chris Carmack) — Sara’s ex-boyfriend — which Sara swiftly resolves. With the help of local Sheriff Greg Sabin (Donal Logue), the students arrive at the lake safely and begin to party and unwind. Their vacation is cut short after lead football star, Malik, gets his arm ripped off during a water skiing accident. The students eventually learn the calamity was something much more severe — a primal attack involving a shark. While trying to transport Malik to the hospital the friends come to the realization that 15 species of sharks are lurking in the water, and with no boat or form of transportation, and no phone reception, the group of seven face a fate they would never have imagined.

Jail Bait!
Jail Bait!

Although Shark Night 3D takes a surprisingly long time to ‘kick-off,’ it works best when the college students are dealing with their ‘real-life’ issues and problems or just casually interacting together, regardless of their ‘stereo-typical’ roles and second-rate acting. Dustin Milligan, The Butterfly Effect 2 (2006), who plays Nick LaDuca is probably the weakest of the cast, but is relatable enough to anchor the film, while his co-stars Chris Zylka, Kaboom (2010), the usually engaging, Joel David Moore, Avatar (2009) and Sinqua Walls, The Second Half (2009), do the best they can with the somewhat dull material they are forced to work with. The gorgeous Katharine McPhee, The House Bunny (2008), is striking enough to pardon the banal character she portrays while Sara Paxton can clearly do better given her work in 2009’s The Last House on the Left. It’s merely Chris Carmack’s, Lovewrecked (2005), Dennis Crim who offers an inkling of complexity amongst the clichéd shark-bait on display, as his character’s mysterious past is slowly uncovered. Wooden acting aside, the picture’s opening scenes are more entertaining than its tame second half — which lacks serious bite — with surprisingly very little in the way of shark carnage.

Clearly director David R. Ellis is no stranger to blood and splatter — especially when considering the carnage he served in the gleefully violent Final Destination 2 (2003) — so it was overly disappointing to learn that the studio opted for a PG-13 rating for Shark Night 3D consisting mostly of off-screen kills or flailing red water — discontent is slightly more amplified for those who enjoyed Piranha 3D and are aching for a second serve of comical kills — even those goofy Sci-Fi channel horror flicks complete with the cheesy graphics and laughable effects fare up better than this in terms of b-grade entertainment value. Sure, some of the 3D effects are ‘cool’ in a ludicrous sort of fashion — let’s face it 3D has become a marketing gimmick  — but the story by first-time feature writers Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg screams unevenness with very little in terms of originality or genuine surprises. Sure there’s a twist, but this revelation thrusts the picture into over-the-top, torture-porn — minus the violence — territory. Killing off the dazzling Katharine McPhee — one of the film’s limited assets — at the mid-way point doesn’t help proceedings either.

Admiring the striking Katherine McPhee
Admiring the striking Katherine McPhee

Adding salt to the meaty flesh wound, Shark Night 3D is oddly riddled with a number of errors — a sure sign of laziness on Ellis’ part — such as the countless lily pads shown on the lake even though lily pads don’t actually grow in salt water — it’s apparent the picture was shot in blue freshwater opposed to green saltwater — while the Sand Tiger Shark shown in the finale, though menacing in appearance, is not dangerous to humans and generally won’t attack unless provoked. The movie’s tagline, ‘Terror runs deep,’ is also identical to Peter Benchley’s The Beast, which came out over 10 years earlier, just a few signs of neglect and disregard within the film’s overall production.

Given the film’s potential, it’s a shame Shark Night 3D snubs the bait on multiple occasions — it takes itself way too seriously to be enjoyable, is afraid of taking risks when it shouldn’t be but worst of all, fails to embrace what it’s actually trying achieve. While not as terrible as those straight-to-DVD Asylum knockoffs, Shark Night 3D is mediocrity at best. The music video put together by the cast at the film’s mid-credit point is perhaps as far as this picture is willing to swim.

2.5 / 5 – Alright

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Shark Night 3D is released through Icon Film Distribution Australia