GORE IN THE STORE
GREAT WHITE **
Directed by Martin Wilson.
Starring Katrina Bowden, Aaron Jakubenko, Te Kohe Tuhaka, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Tim Kano.
Horror/Thriller, Australia/USA, 91 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on DVD and Digital via Altitude Film Distribution on 17th May 2021.
Usually on a movie poster the words 'From the director of...’ is there to instil a bit of familiarity to help sell the film; hell, even a 'From the producer of...’ could help but when a movie poster comes at you with 'From the executive producers of...’ as its selling point then you know you’re in for something less than spectacular, especially when that something is a shark movie from the marketing department of... sorry, from the executive producers of the 47 METRES DOWN series.
So given we have a shark movie series – if two movies counts as a series – from the guys who signed the chequebook for this one then it must mean we’re in for a treat, maybe something we haven't seen before because the 47 METRES DOWN 'series’ is one thing and this is another, right? Well, be prepared to be amazed as GREAT WHITE is indeed a shark movie that is a bit different from those other movies as instead of being trapped underwater with sharks the hapless victims are trapped above water with sharks down below, which is pretty much the same plot as at several other shark movies from relatively recent times. Go on, think of some recent ones – THE REEF, OPEN WATER, THE SHALLOWS, DEEP BLUE SEA 3, CAGE DIVE, SURROUNDED – and they all have the same plot, hit the same beats and usually have the same effect of not being very terrifying thanks to being so repetitive. And we're haven't even got to SHARKNADO, SHARKENSTEIN, GHOST SHARK and all the other cheap knock-offs – naff they may be but at least they try to offer a gimmick to differentiate themselves.
And so now we have GREAT WHITE which, unfortunately, is nothing to do with the 1981 Enzo G. Castellari JAWS rip-off but is instead the debut feature film of Australian director Martin Wilson, in which struggling entrepreneurial couple Charlie (Aaron Jakubenko) and Kaz (Katrina Bowden) fly Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi) and Joji (Tim Kano), a seemingly well-off couple, to a remote island so Michelle can scatter the ashes of her grandfather who apparently survived being stranded in that area back in 1951. Kaz and Charlie’s tourist flights business isn't bringing in the money and so they jump at the chance of this short notice charter, especially as the laid-back Charlie wants to get married and Kaz, who is clearly the worrier/more responsible of the two, announces she is pregnant.
Straight away GREAT WHITE gives us characters with a bit of back story and it works because when our group, which also includes Charlie’s assistant Benny (Te Kohe Tuhaka), gets to the island it doesn’t take long for things to escalate and we immediately know who is who and what role they are going to play. Thanks to some efficient writing little seeds are sown early on to let us know how the dynamics and power play are going to play out, such as Benny’s eyes lingering on Michelle just enough for Joji to notice, Joji being immediately confrontational with Charlie and basically Joji being a pain in the arse, which Charlie calls out quite early on.
But Joji has a point as it is Charlie’s actions that direct the story because when Michelle is startled by a washed-up half-eaten corpse on the beach Charlie decides that they should fly out to sea to find the boat that the person came from, and they find it so Charlie lands the plane on the water and then the shark that chomped the mysterious person in two decides to attack the plane. Cue the inflatable life raft, a couple of distress flares, an injured Benny and the 150 kilometres they must row to shore and GREAT WHITE is off and running (or swimming).
To everyone’s credit GREAT WHITE is a superb looking movie. The establishing aerial shots that make the life raft look like a pinprick in the huge ocean are gorgeous, as are the underwater shots that look up with the light from the raft shining downwards to create a silhouette against the surface of the water and made all the more startling by having a shark or two swim into frame to accentuate the danger. All the actors seem committed and give believable performances, and thanks to those little character beats early on you become invested in their situation, especially as the filmmakers have followed the JAWS rule of not showing the shark too often in order to create a sense of fear.
However, despite having fairly fleshed-out characters, decent acting and some dazzling visuals GREAT WHITE unfortunately drops the ball (or jumps the shark, if you will) in the final ten minutes, mainly thanks to two things; the fact that sharks do not growl or roar (despite what JAWS 3D and JAWS: THE REVENGE may have told us) and that Kaz has superhuman powers of recovery as, apparently, she can hold her breath underwater for an extraordinary length of time and, most hilariously of all, black out and come to whilst at the bottom of the sea and still be on her final girl A-game within seconds without time to blink. In fact, the salt water doesn’t seem to affect her vision at all as she seems to be able to make out everything that is going on despite floating around an underwater wreck (also borrowed from JAWS: THE REVENGE – who knew that movie would be so influential?) with a trapped shark and in a state of fluctuating consciousness.
Yes, in what appears to be a quick ‘that’ll do’ wrap-up GREAT WHITE undoes everything it set up in its first two acts with lazy and unoriginal writing, and when the credits roll what you are left with is the feeling that maybe you’ve seen this movie before, and if you have seen any of the previously mentioned shark movies then you definitely have (especially SURROUNDED, which has some very similar plot details). The filmmakers have clearly gone out of their way to make GREAT WHITE as realistic as possible and not go down the absurd route of SHARKNADO and its like, and for most of this movie they succeed without being drawn into the tedious ‘waiting for something to happen for an hour’ trap thanks to the characters and their interactions, but by making these sharks behave unnaturally and mistaking stretching things out to silly lengths for creating tension at the end it falls flat without any satisfying pay-off – even who survives is predictable and could have been re-written for a last-minute surprise but it never happens.
Rent it if you must or if you have run out of shark movies that you haven’t seen before but don’t raise your expectations after the solid opening act and a well-shot second one because GREAT WHITE is more like going down the pond chasin' bluegills and tommycods than it is the thrilling nerve-shredder that it promises to be.