Title: Shark Night 3D
Directed By: David R. Ellis
Starring: Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Chris Carmack, Katharine McPhee, Chris Zylka, Alyssa Diaz, Joel David Moore, Sinqua Wells, Donal Logue, Joshua Leonard
While most movies require endearing characters to get you from beginning to end and make you feel invested in what’s happening on the screen, that’s not necessary here. Fun, good scares and some carnage are all that’s needed in this recipe and nothing more. However, writers Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg attempt to take their story one step further by giving it some heart. Heart in a movie called Shark Night 3D? Emotion in the midst of a hyper sexy bloodbath is just plain old silly and that’s exactly how it comes across.
Sara (Sara Paxton) comes from an unusual town where houses are planted on islands in the middle of a lake with zero phone access. In honor of sports star Malik’s (Sinqua Walls) B+ on a test, their group of friends pack up a car with a mere handbag of luggage each, one cooler of beer and sole bottle of vodka and head off to the remote location for a weekend of booze, swimming and jet skiing.
Minus a run-in with Sara’s ex, Dennis (Chris Carmack), and his creepy cliché hick sidekick, Red (Joshua Leonard), the kiddies make it out to what should be a weekend in paradise. It’s all fun and games until Malik opts to show off his wakeboarding skills in a high-speed display. It isn’t his showmanship that gets the better of him, or even a rogue wave, rather a shark that nips the back of his board and pulls him down. With no connection to the outside world, the group has no choice but to try and make it back to the mainland, however, the lake’s vicious new residents are not going to make that easy.
Even as a non-fan of Piranha 3D, I commend Alexandre Aja for committing to a tone and going all the way with it. No, Shark Night 3D isn’t trying to be the next Piranha, but it is trying to emulate a touch of that film’s glory while genuinely trying to scare the audience and show off a little drama. The problem is, all of those elements clash and we end up with a movie that feels like three. But still, that’s not to say that those sections don’t work to a point individually.
The film kicks off Piranha 3D-style, with director David R. Ellis doing everything in his power to provide views of ladies’ behinds. We also get a fair dose of the typically idealistic college kid prattle where they jest about crushes, scholarships and the wild weekend they’re about to have. We’ve seen it all before, but it works well enough to get us to the lake house.
Here’s where we get caught in between Piranha and true horror. When the first shark makes its presence known in a gruesome way, rather than express terror, the characters are almost too genuinely distraught taking away most of the fun of the situation, as sick as that sounds. Perhaps that could have worked if the attacks were actually scary, but they’re not, so the groups’ emotion becomes melodramatic.
However, that melodrama isn’t the cast’s fault, rather it comes from their desperate attempt to make something out of nothing. Just about every character is, well, lame. We’ve seen them all before – the sports star, the nerd trying to get the girl, the sex maniac, the loyal girlfriend, the comedic relief. No, nobody really succeeds at breaking through their stereotype and creating a character that’s relatable, but boy do they try, especially Walls. What his character goes through physically is quite absurd, but his devotion to his girlfriend, Maya (Alyssa Diaz), is the most authentic element of Shark Night. Katharine McPhee and Joel David Moore deserve some credit too as one of their big moments in the film is fantastically tense and the closest thing this feature comes to sheer terror.
The killers are the leads. (No, not really.) The way the script is written, we don’t really have a main player. It seems as though, perhaps for marketing purposes, it’s Paxton, but the film continuously pushes Dustin Milligan’s Nick to the forefront. Without a central protagonist to latch onto, we have nobody to carry us through the/ film and Shark Night turns into a collage of sketches for each character. Then again, it might have been worse if the writers committed to Sara or Nick because they’re both painfully bland. Paxton attempts to sell her character’s troubling back story, but the situation is the slightest bit on the silly side and not nearly enough to warrant the position she finds herself in today. As for Nick, he’s cute and sweet, but he never earns our sympathy making it hard to care whether or not he ever wins Sara’s heart – or survives.
Another element that makes it difficult to connect to these characters is the 3D. Between this and The Final Destination, it’s quite clear that Ellis just doesn’t know what else to do with it, but use the technology to throw random items in the audience’s faces. Rather than make you feel like you’re in the middle of the action, Ellis’ use of the extra dimension continuously reminds you that you’re watching a movie, never letting you get engrossed in the action.
Shark Night 3D isn’t a total failure, but it really doesn’t succeed at much either. There are maybe two moments that are the slightest bit scary, the use of 3D is atrocious and it’s tough to build a connection with any of the characters. At just 91 minutes it’s a harmless watch, but most certainly nothing you’d want to sit through twice – or even once for most.