Dir: Misty Talley
Star: Reid Miller, Hawn Tran, Courtney Lauren Cummings, Scott Allen Perry
While The Asylum are the Great White in the field of killer shark movies, there’s still room in the cinematic ecosystem for littler fish to survive. Talley is a good example, having managed to nibble out a career at the lower end of the sub-genre. She started as an editor on Ghost Shark in 2013, then moved to the director’s chair two years later for Zombie Shark, becoming the first woman to direct a SyFy Original Movie. Talley has contributed to Shark(nado) Week each season since, first with the boringly awful Ozark Sharks and last year, the amusingly awful Mississippi River Sharks. I guess this counts as career progression, and Santa Jaws continues this upward trend.
Of course, on one level this is a terrible, terrible idea. It’s bad enough that some radio stations start to play Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Having a blatantly festive-themed movie premiering in August leaves me wanting to call down the Spanish Inquisition on the makers’ heads. But the SyFy Channel cares not for the traditional calendar, even if there are grounds to suspect the creative process here began and ended at, “What rhymes with ‘Jaws’? Paws… Cause… CLAUS!” Counter-point: in Mississippi River Sharks, Jason London, playing a meta-version of himself, said he had an upcoming film called Shark Bite 6: Here Comes Santa Jaws. There may be a Talley Cinematic Universe at work here.
To the film’s credit, this is not just a shark swimming around with a Santa hat on its fin [even if that’s obviously the hook]. Nor is the IMDb explanation entirely accurate – “Trying to survive the family Christmas, Cody makes a wish to be alone, which ends up backfiring when a shark manifests and kills his entire family” – because the makers, perhaps surprisingly, put genuine effort into creating a back-story. Teenage, aspiring comic artist, Cody (Miller, channeling the young Edward Norton) acquires a pen that makes whatever he draws, come to life. Unfortunately, the first thing he uses it for, is his “Santa Jaws” strip, about a vengefully festive shark. She soon starts munching her way through his family: for obvious reasons, he has great difficulty in getting anyone beside schoolmates Steve (Tran) and Jena (Cummings) to believe him or help defeat the threat. Not least since Santa Jaws can only be harmed by Christmas-themed weapons…
This does a very good job of hitting the sweet spot between silly and stupid, to the point a finale where the now candy-cane enhanced creature (below) is bombarded with gunpowder-stuffed turkeys… Well, “makes sense” might be a bit of a stretch, but in this genre, anything more than “does not provoke derisive snorts” has to be regarded as a win. Perhaps most impressively, the lead characters do a remarkably good job of managing to avoid being annoying teenagers, to the point where it’s actually quite sad when they get eaten. Again, it’s pretty rare not to be cheering actively for the shark. However, the same can not be said for the Mom and Dad. I could well have done entirely without them, seeing as they roam the plot, doing little more than getting in the way. Typical parents, really, from what I remember of my teenage years.
The special effects are best described as functional, and we get the required scenes of the shark leaping out of the water to snare unwary humans. The CGI is certainly improved over the feeble efforts in Mississippi River Sharks, yet there’s good reason why Talley sticks to flashing it in short bursts. There’s also a remote-controlled fin version with the hat, cruising around in the water, looking a strange hybrid of menacing and daft. This is likely an appropriate metaphor for the movie as a whole. It did feel weird watching a Christmas film on a day when the temperature in Arizona was about 110F, and I trust the SyFy Channel will re-screen it at a more appropriate time. Still, Die Hard was released in July, and that hasn’t stopped it from becoming an all-time Christmas classic.
It goes virtually without saying. this is not at the level of “Yippie-ki-yay, motherfisher”. However, few are, and Santa Shark proved rather more entertaining than the one-joke movie I expected. It was an especially pleasant surprise to be laughing with the film, rather than at it. As a twisted festive fable, whose tongue is firmly in its gills, the movie gave me a vibe similar to Gremlins, albeit on a considerably smaller scale. Perhaps this will inspire an entire franchise of holiday-themed shark movies? Coming soon: Halloween Hammerhead? Call me, SyFy – let’s do lunch.