GORE IN THE STORE
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THE BLACK DEMON **
Directed by Adrian Grünberg.
Starring Josh Lucas, Fernanda Urrejola, Venus Ariel, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Héctor Jiménez, Carlos Solórzano.
Horror/Thriller, Mexico/USA/Dominican Republic, 101 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK via Signature Entertainment on digital platforms on 19th June 2023 and on DVD & Blu-ray on 17th July 2023.
Another year, another slew of shark attack movies with CGI monsters from the deep coming up to the surface to devour hapless swimmers/water-skiers/drunken teens on a boat, and with the high-profile THE MEG 2: THE TRENCH due to hit screens in a couple of months then now could be a good time to get your shark movie out there to get a bite of the action. THE BLACK DEMON comes with a little bit of fanfare, as it has a couple of names in the cast, and it is directed by Adrian Grünberg, the filmmaker behind WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION and RAMBO: LAST BLOOD, so there is bound to be some extreme violence going on, right? Right?
Actually, no, there isn’t. In fact, the titular black demon of the title doesn’t really appear all that much, which, if you are going to make JAWS comparisons – because every shark movie gets compared to Spielberg’s character-based classic, even though they always ‘borrow’ more from JAWS 2 because that is the one that has the slasher movie template – is apt because you don’t see the shark in that movie very much either. However, Spielberg made sure that when you did see it, then it counted towards terrifying the audience. Here, not so much.
But what THE BLACK DEMON does take from JAWS – apart from a line of dialogue verbatim right near the end – is the family drama element. Okay, it may not be the Brody’s and their tale of settling into a new environment and dealing with hostile locals, but what is? In this case, we have Paul Sturges (Josh Lucas), a corporate man who works for an oil company that owns a decaying rig off the Mexican coast. Paul has been called in to inspect the rig before deciding on whether to keep it going or shut it down, and for the trip, he has brought his family – Mexican wife Ines (Fernanda Urrejola), teenage daughter Audrey (Venus Ariel) and young son Tommy (Carlos Solórzano) – along to stay on the mainland and relax while he works for a few hours.
The trouble is, once Paul has left for the rig the locals get a bit nasty with Ines, as the town they are in has fallen into decay along with the rig. The locals blame the oil company and tell stories of ‘Demonio Negro’ – or The Black Demon – being summoned by an ancient god to seek revenge on those who spoil the environment, and two females left alone in a bar full of angry drunks does not make for a happy breakaway, so the rest of the Sturges family hire a boat and make their way to the rig. However, when they arrive, they find Paul, two surviving oil rig workers, black oily water, floating body parts and a huge megaladon patrolling the area, occasionally bashing into the ailing structure. If only someone in authority had inspected the oil rig earlier…
So, whilst on paper a family marooned on an oil rig with a giant beastie swimming about might make for an exciting and tense monster movie, in reality, the bulk of THE BLACK DEMON has more to do with Paul, his dodgy business practises that have resulted in this situation, corporate greed, obvious environmental issues and another sly commentary on US/Mexican relations, which – again, on paper – does give THE BLACK DEMON something over the average JAWS 2 knock-off that you find swimming about on your streaming channel of choice in terms of content. However, in execution, the writing is too messy and does not allow enough room for either the human drama or the monster action to break through and carry the plot along with any sense of gusto, making the second act something of a slog as the movie doggie paddles to a climax that just says ‘to hell with it’ and blatantly rips off the ending of a late ‘90s sci-fi blockbuster. The thing is, the movie could have done with some of that type of absurdity during the previous thirty-five minutes just to liven things up a bit instead of going in a bit too hard with the human drama. The balance is never quite right.
But unlike a lot of the shark-movie-of-the-week titles floating about, THE BLACK DEMON does boast a solid cast giving some decent performances, especially Fernanda Urrejola as Ines, who seems to make the right character decisions and provides a strong female presence. Credit also to Julio Cesar Cedillo as Chato, one of the survivors on the oil rig, whose instant likeability and warm chemistry with the other actors makes him more of a focal point than Paul, who, despite trying to be the good family man, made a huge error of judgement and must pay the price. Unfortunately, Josh Lucas is the weak link when it comes to the performances as his line delivery is just too one-note all the way through, whether he’s being a loving parent, a cold businessman or panicking as he tries not to get eaten.
As shark movies go, THE BLACK DEMON is certainly not the worst as it does have some positive points – acting, characters, a bit of a deeper story than most – but the execution lets it down by being too messy, implying lots of mythology but never really exploring it, and not having enough megaladon to live up to the promise of its cover art (although seeing how the CGI is passable at best, that may not be the biggest negative). If you are a shark movie aficionado and have exhausted all the however-many-HEADED SHARK ATTACK films there are, then there is some mild entertainment to be had here, but really, THE BLACK DEMON is a one-time rental and not a movie that demands repeat viewings.
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