Mako (2021)

Rating: D

Dir: Mohamed Hesham El-Rashidy
Star: Basma, Murat Yildirim, Nicolas Mouawad, Nahed El Sebaï

This half-baked effort attempts to combine drama and sharksploitation, and ends up failing badly at both. The central character is documentary film-maker Rana Baghat (Basma), who became a meme after an error at an awards ceremony, when she was given an honour intended for her husband, Sherif (Mouawad). Desperate to rebuild her reputation, she decides her next project will be to dive on the wreck of the Salem Express, a supposedly cursed location in the Red Sea. She and her team quickly find out why. Barely have they reached the seabed, when one of their number is snatched by a shark. Panic, poor decisions and narcosis follows, not to mention a psycho on their support boat.

There are so many moist missteps here. It’s clear El-Rashidy wants to go deeper into his characters than a typical B-movie, yet it doesn’t work. We’re never given any reason to care about Rana, or almost anybody else. New intern Gharam (El Sebaï), the one who came up with the idea, is the only person who seems to be somewhat smart and likeable. She also has a personal connection to the Salem Express, explaining her drive to tell the story of those who lost their lives on it. Part of the issue is, once we’re under the water, everyone looks the same, except in extreme close-up. The deep-sea masks also filter out much of the performances, leaving little beyond hysterical, somewhat muffled shouting.

I guess the yelling is understandable given the perilous situation, though kinda pointless. For in the ocean, nobody can hear you scream, to borrow a tag-line from somewhere. Most of the sluggish dramatic set-up in the first half becomes largely irrelevant. For instance, the marital tension between Rana and Sherif over their respective careers, doesn’t matter much when he is stuck under a large door, and a hungry shark is circling nearby. As an aside, I am fairly certain that what’s depicted here is not a mako, despite the film naming itself as such. It’s probably a fairly good indicator  both of the movie’s priorities, and its general sloppiness. Though the little we see of the shark is reasonably well-executed.

Indeed, from a technical viewpoint, this is better than most in the genre. It looks like it had adequate resources, and the claustrophobic nature of the setting is made abundantly clear. We will not be going diving in the foreseeable future, put it that way. It’s all just in the service of a tedious and poorly directed narrative, that never manages to engage and only rarely provides even the vicarious thrill of people being eaten. The “based on a true story” claim is also largely spurious. While the Salem Express was a real ship, which sank in 1991 with the loss of 470 passengers and crew, it’s only in 30 metres of water, and there are no reports of it being a buffet for killer sharks. “Mako” of that what you will… Thank you: I’ll be here all week.