Shark Week 2022: Chum Assembly Required

It has been a few years since SyFy stopped doing their parallel runs of shark-related movies, which played opposite the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week documentary series. We always looked forward to them, and wrote up the 2016, 2017 and 2018 editions here previously. Asylum may have eventually drawn a line under the Sharknado franchise which was the tent-pole of SyFy’s schedule, yet there have been no shortage of other entries, from the smart to the stupid. While we have covered a number of these since our last dedicated feature – not least in our When Chinese Animals Attack series – there are quite a few which have slipped through our net, as it were.

This year, we decided to assemble our own damn Shark Week, pulling together movies from various sources, limiting these to those which have come out over the past two or three years. This restriction was not imposed without a sense of loss. Sadly, it means that the 2012 Swedish entry, Jaws of the Shark did not qualify. But you’ll understand why we will get round to reviewing it in future, given this synopsis: “Two scientists genetically engineer a shark with legs, which escapes their captivity, and goes on a murdering spree wielding a chainsaw.” I think you had us at “with legs” and certainly by “wielding a chainsaw.” Having seen the trailer, it potentially looks to be at The VelociPastor levels of no-budget insanity.

We also chose to discount the work of the prolific Mark Polonia, not least because if feels like we could have filled up the entire week with his movies: Noah’s Shark, Virus Shark, and Jurassic Shark 2: Aquapocalypse – and that’s just since the start of 2021. Maybe he’ll get his own, dedicated Shark Week down the line. Though having previously watched Sharkenstein, any such project may have to wait until there’s a 2-for-1 offer on bottles of tequila at the local off-license. However, there was no shortage of other contenders, at budgets low and high. Over the coming week and a bit, we’ll be reviewing an entry a day, and the reviews for each will accumulate below, so check back often!

Sharks of the Corn (2022)

Rating: D+

Dir: Tim Ritter
Star: Ford Windstar, Shannon Stockin, Steve Guynn, Casey Miracle

Less than one minute into this, it was already abundantly clear that this was going to suck. The only question remaining to be answered was, whether it would suck in a good or a bad way. Sadly, as the rating above implies, it’s largely the latter. On one level, it’s a spoof of Jaws, relocating it from the coastline of New England to a cornfield in Kentucky. This is clear from the opening, in which a woman abandons her boyfriend to go “skinny dipping” in the cornfield, only to become the shark’s first victim. The characters are also largely named in homages to Spielberg’s movie, e.g. Benchley, Scheider, Gottlieb and Kramer. You get the obvious scenes, where the hero tries to convince the local mayor that the cornfield must be closed for safety, etc.

Yet, on top of that, there’s a significant plot about a shark-obsessed serial killer, Teddy Bo Lucas (Guynn), who gets signals from Stonehenge – or, at least, stock footage thereof – and kills as sacrifices to speed up the return of a shark goddess. There’s a whole cult beyond him, much to the concern of police chief Vera Scheider (Stockin). To stop their occult shenanigans, it’s up to her, real estate agent/news reporter Jonathan Gottlieb (Windstar) whose drone saw the sharks, and CIA agent Murray Benchley (Miracle), who was infiltrating the cult. Throw in a stillborn shark pup in a jar, Bigfoot, and gangsters. No wonder it lasts a chunky 107 minutes, which is definitely too long.

The same could be said about She Kills, another slice of microbudget exploito-comedy, which had some of the same people involved. Here, perhaps one-third is at least somewhat amusing and one-third is tolerable: it’s the remainder, falling into neither category, that sinks the movie. It tries to become criticism proof by embracing wholeheartedly its own ineptness.  Yet there is still only so many times you can see a vinyl toy shark being pushed at a victim, while lo-res CGI blood is dumped somewhere near them on the screen. The law of diminishing returns catches up, and it feels like there is simply more invention needed to sustain the lengthy running-time. The moment where the shark jumps up to grab a passing helicopter did provoke a genuine laugh though.

The performances are all over the place, yet the main ones reach the level of acceptable. Guynn is certainly deranged enough, while Windstar has an everyman quality that’s at least somewhat endearing. Stockin is okay, yet is sunk by the feeble attempts at things like a “police station” behind her. When they eventually show up, the shark goddess and her consort (? I’m guessing here – the mythology is never explained) actually look kinda creepy, and you wish there had been more of them. I suspect the film needs to decide whether it’s going to be a Jaws spoof, or go its own way into that neo-Lovecraftian pantheon of cultists and elder gods. Trying to be both things, means it ends up making a not very good job of either.

This review is part of Shark Week 2022: Chum Assembly Required.

Swim (2021)

Rating: C

Dir: Jared Cohn
Star: Jennifer Field, Brett Hargrave, Daniel Grogan, Andy Lauer

With the SyFy channel out of the business of original movies, David Michael Latt and his team at The Asylum had to find work elsewhere. They appear to have landed a gig providing content for streaming service Tubi, with this one of their earliest pieces of content, and part of their August 2021 Bitefest. There is a continuation of the lineage here, with the script written by Anthony C. Ferrante, who directed all six entries in the Sharknado franchise. This is a different kind of shark film however, intended to be taken seriously. Indeed, despite being two years too late, it’s probably closer to The Asylum’s mockbusters, sharing with Crawl its single word imperative title, and a story of a family trapped by rising floodwater, alongside a menacingly carnivorous creature.

The director here, Cohn, already has fifty directorial credits, including Halloween Pussy Trap Kill Kill and Atlantic Rim. This was one of eight features he helmed in 2021, according to the IMDb, so you should likely set your expectations accordingly. It’s the story of the Samson family, who have headed up from Los Angeles to their beach-house for a summer month of fun. Dad will be joining them, except he is stuck due to inclement weather. That storm is now hitting mom Lacey (Field), daughter Charlotte (Hargrave), son Tucker (Grogan), and gramps Noah (Lauer). Worse, a predatory shark, which has already eaten the caretaker and nibbled Tucker’s girlfriend, is swept into the house as the waters rise. 

It’s probably best for you not to look at this too closely. If you did, you might notice how, for example, there is supposedly a “storm” raging in the foreground, yet the sea behind the characters is placid and calm. The water effects are probably the biggest problem technically. The shark isn’t too bad, although it does appear rather inconsistent in size, and when it attacks, there is a reasonable amount of blood. The whole film is, however an exercise in privilege, with the shark concentrating its hunger on the working-class, old and African American characters, rather than the rich Samson nuclear family. It’s clearly intended to be a metaphor for capitalism! The shark is Elon Musk! Wake up, sheeple!

Sorry, thought I was on Twitter there for a moment. Once things get going, the pace is brisk enough to be adequately entertaining. Again though, best not ask too many questions, such as the way the shark is apparently able to climb the steps out of the basement, and batter against the door, even though water is limited to a trickle under it. On the other hand, I am prepared to cut some slack to a film where Mom gets the line, “Go upstairs, kids. I’m gonna fuck up a shark!” It could have leaned into this a little more, I feel, and it’s odd how Field only looks about five years older than her children. Maybe there’s something about sharks and immortality after all.

This review is part of Shark Week 2022: Chum Assembly Required.

The Requin (2022)

Rating: D+

Dir: Le-Van Kiet
Star: Alicia Silverstone, James Tupper, Deirdre O’Connell, Danny Chung

Firstly, the title. “Requin” is French for “shark.” Which makes sense, in the context of the film, not least because it takes place in the former French colony of Vietnam. But why, then, is it The Requin, rather than Le Requin? I mean, pick a language, and stick with it. Next: Alicia Silverstone is 45. According to her IMDb, she’s been busy enough over the past 25 years: I’m just not sure I’ve seen much she has been in since Clueless. It was therefore a bit of a culture shock to see Cher looking all middle-aged and maternal, rather than the perky teenager I was expecting – the passage of approaching three decades be damned.

To the movie. Jaelyn (Silverstone) and her husband, Kyle (Tupper), have taken time off after a family tragedy, for a luxury vacation by the ocean in Vietnam. It’s going well, until an overnight storm blows their cabin off its foundations, and before they know it, they have been swept out to sea in their impromptu boat. Kyle hurts his leg during the incident, and an initially inspired attempt to signal for help goes badly wrong, leaving them on a mere fragment of debris. After they get at cross-porpoises for a bit (hohoho), le creature of the title eventually shows up – albeit close to an hour in. Things thereafter get considerably more up close and personal, in terms of encountering nature, than is comfortable for the married couple.

The last thirty minutes are fairly decent, at least in terms of pacing. For there is one truly terrible effects spot, where Jaelyn is using an outboard motor to defend herself (top), which has CGI blood that The Asylum would return to sender, as badly done and wholly inauthentic. Otherwise though, it’s relatively straightforward and well enough filmed to make for an acceptable climax. The issues are more front-loaded, not least that I was left not giving a damn about the family tragedy mentioned above. What relevance does it have, in regard to being cast adrift in the ocean? It’s both obvious and clumsily executed, to the point it’s almost counter-productive. When you title your film “The Shark” – even across two languages – WE DON’T CARE ABOUT CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. I know the shark certainly didn’t.

It’s odd, as Kiet just delivered The Princess, which I really enjoyed and was thoroughly kick-ass. He also directed House in the Alley, which was the Vietnamese entry in 31 Countries of Horror, and was competent enough, if a bit derivative. I was hoping we’d get something of at least similar merit here and was disappointed that, by and large we didn’t. Admittedly, this optimism was in part because I wanted to say the film “came in like a Requin ball.” Instead, it goes to prove that a reasonably large budget (at $8.5 million, it perhaps cost as much as every other shark film we saw this week, combined), certainly does not necessarily lead to a product superior in quality.

This review is part of Shark Week 2022: Chum Assembly Required.

The Reef: Stalked (2022)

Rating: C+

Dir: Andrew Traucki
Star: Teressa Liane, Ann Truong, Saskia Archer, Kate Lister

This is a sequel to Traucki’s 2010 film, The Reef, whose synopsis reads: “A sailing trip becomes a disaster for a group of friends when the boat sinks and a white shark hunts the helpless passengers.” I haven’t seen it, yet based on that, I’m not sure I need to. Replace “sailing” with “kayaking”, and you’re more or less here. Perhaps lob in a bit from The Descent, the trip in this case being partly a memorial for a lost friend. Here, it’s to honour a woman who was drowned by her abusive husband. Her sisters, Nic (Liane) and Annie (Archer), head off with Jodie (Truong) and Lisa (Lister). It’s not long before they find themselves hunted by a shark, and needing to cross open water in order to get help for an injured young girl, who was also attacked.

I joked about Swim being a metaphor for capitalism. I’m not joking when I say the shark here is a metaphor for toxic masculinity, as seen in the sisters’ murderous brother-in-law. He is literally the only man in the entire film. Fortunately, once they hit the water, it’s easy to forget the rather heavy-handed messaging which we get at the beginning. However, it does mean you know the death-toll here will be limited, because otherwise the patriarchy will have won. It’s also definitely the shark film with the most F-bombs I’ve ever seen, because Australia. 

I will say, given the scenario, the heroines exhibit a real lack of urgency in their kayaking. I mean, I would be flailing away like an aquatic helicopter in their situation, rather than the languid paddling they demonstrate. On the other hand, the makers do an excellent job of combining footage of real sharks with practical effects and CGI. The results are generally effective, and occasionally impressive. The relationship between the women is nicely portrayed; they are not saints, and bicker over the best way to address the situation. Nic seems to be suffering an odd kind of PTSD, after the trauma of discovering her sister’s body in the bath. This translates into her suffering from drowning flashbacks somehow. While I dunno quite how that works, maybe a kayaking holiday isn’t the best idea?

As ever though, movies like this really are not about logical analysis, because a fear of being eaten alive by sharks isn’t logical either. [They cause maybe 10 deaths a year worldwide, compared to 2,000 killed after being struck by lightning] They need to connect with the audience on a more emotional, almost a primeval level, and this did it for me on enough occasions to justify its existence. I’m not convinced about the need to try and inject social commentary into shark movies: there are plenty of other horror sub-genres better suited to it. However, it’s still possible to set that aside and appreciate the simple, oceanic pleasures this has to offer.

This review is part of Shark Week 2022: Chum Assembly Required.

Bull Shark (2022)

Rating: C

Dir: Brett Bentman
Star: Thom Hallum, Richard Ray, Lindsey Marie Wilson, Billy Blair

Y’know, for the great bulk of this, I didn’t mind it too much. Though to be clear, it’s probably more accurately described as a “shark adjacent movie,” rather than a shark movie. There are a a couple of sharks in it, true. They occasionally eat people. Yet this feels kinda secondary to the other stuff – and when you reach the ending, you may well understand why they opted to ignore the more piscine elements. We’ll get to that. For the main, it’s a low-rent version of Jaws, set in Texas, where local game warden Spencer Timms  (Hallum, doing a decent impression of a redneck Brad Pitt) is called on after a corpse is found in a lake with a shark’s tooth embedded in its back.

Can’t possibly be a shark though, as everyone knows they don’t live in fresh water. The mayor (Ray) is particularly keen to hush things up, despite Spencer’s concerns, and desire to close the lake. He also has to deal with the future ex-Mrs. Timms (Wilson), who is filing for divorce, handle his teenage son, and figure out whether or not he is an alcoholic. All of which hardly leaves any time for shark fightin’. However, despite the lack on that front, I still found it adequately entertaining. There’s an easy-going and laid-back nature which is a bit reminiscent of the excellent Lake Placid, along with the bickering between game warden and sheriff – although this lacks the same, deliciously acidic bite.

In this line, I enjoyed the goofy charms of Nolan Holt (Blair) who, with his Lynyrd Skynyrd and Wrestlemania T-shirts, is even more rednecky than Spencer. It’d have been fun to have had those two pair up with the sheriff and go after the creature. Instead… oh, dear. It’s one of the most embarrassingly flat excuses for a climax I’ve seen, in which Spencer and his wife hit the lake, with a Thermos containing C-4. Cue the bad, bad digital effects. It whizzes past so quickly, it’s clear even the makers realized how terrible the end product was, and opted to get it over with, as fast as possible. I actually rewound the movie to check. It was no better the second time.

It’s a shame, since up until this point, the movie had managed to do a fair bit with very little e.g. very little sharks and very, very little shark attacks, a bit of thrashing around in shallow water being about the extent of it. Yet I didn’t mind. The hero is personable, and I found myself caring about his non-shark problems, even if the whole “estranged spouse” thing has been a cliché since Die Hard. If it hadn’t fallen apart so (non-)spectacularly at the end, it would have had a shot at being the best film seen in this series. Unfortunately, when it comes to movies, last impressions are the lasting ones.

This review is part of Shark Week 2022: Chum Assembly Required.

Shark Season (2020)

Rating: D-

Dir: Jared Cohn
Star: Paige McGarvin, Juliana Destefano, Michael Madsen, Jack Pearson
a.k.a. Deep Blue Nightmare

This was a last-minute replacement, coming off the bench after I realized that I’d already seen selection Blood Bite before, when it was called Horror Shark. So, instead Cohn got his second film of this feature, and I was looking for something along the same, marginally competent lines as Swim. Despite these low expectations, I was still severely disappointed. For it could be the worst shark film I’ve seen to date. The set-up is simple enough. Photographer Jason (Pearson), model Sarah (McGarvin) and make-up assistant Meghan (Destefano) kayak out to a remote key for a photo-shoot. Sharkiness ensues, leaving Sarah’s father (Madsen) to coordinate the rescue operation. Oh, yeah: Sarah is Jason’s ex, while Meghan is Jason’s next. Awkward. 

No element of this is better than terrible, beginning with the first phone conversation between Sarah and Dad, where we noticed he has the phone pressed to his ear, old folks’ style, while she is in FaceTime mode, presumably getting a lovely picture of his ear canal. [At the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, Madsen literally phones in his entire performance. I wonder if all Mike’s scenes were filmed at his own house] Things get worse when the trio hit the open sea with no life jackets. Mind you, the footage of them on the water is utterly unconvincing: shot from the waist up, I strongly suspect it was filmed in a swimming pool. Making matters worse, their complete lack of urgency at any point, whether being pursued by a shark, or simply heading to their destination. The lackadaisical paddling seen here, makes the languid kayakers of The Reef: Stalked look like a bunch of tweakers.

The low point, however, is an extended conversation between Dad and a shark expert, where the latter is almost entirely the back of his head. It goes on so long, as almost to acquire a surreal, artistic quality. The scene stands out, because it’s close to the only artistic quality this possesses. The trio of main characters at first seem semi-likeable, yet the more we get to know them, the more irritating they become. Their number being reduced by 33% doesn’t improve the situation. For the survivors engage in the kind of mindless discussions, which would be better suited for the end of the night at a wine bar.

The CGI effects are shit, and the makers also re-use the same live shark stock footage on multiple occasions. It doesn’t so much build to a climax, as grind its way towards an ending where – I kid you not – the shark is stabbed to death with a plastic oar. They don’t make aquatic killing machines like they used to, do they? Even as a stout supporter of The Asylum and their product, I find it very difficult to defend this one. It truly sets a low-water mark for the genre. That it originally showed up on Lifetime makes all too much sense. 

This review is part of Shark Week 2022: Chum Assembly Required.

Maneater (2022)

Rating; C

Dir: Justin Lee
Star: Nicky Whelan, Trace Adkins, Ed Morrone, Jeff Fahey

In a rare sighting of a killer shark movie in a theatrical environment, this one actually received a cinema release, albeit the same day it was released on VOD. The prospect wasn’t enough to lure me back into the theatre, and in hindsight, this was wise. I’m sure the ropey CGI would not have been improved by being seen on a larger screen. However, there is at least half of a decent movie here, which is more than can be said for some of the shark films we’ve seen. At this point, we’ll settle for adequately entertaining. 

The heroine is Jesse (Whelan), who has just had her heart broken by her fiance. Her friends, including the Sassy Black Girl and the Lovable Doofus, convince her to convert the planned honeymoon into a vacation to Hawaii, in order to get her mind off things. The highlight of this is a cruise on the boat belonging to Captain Wally (Morrone), which will drop Jesse and her pals off on a desert island. Meanwhile, a week earlier, a great white shark had eaten alive the daughter of Harlan (Adkins). Frustrated by the lack of action from the authorities, he has tooled up and gone full Quint. Harlan eventually crosses paths with what’s left of the holiday party, Wally somehow having failed to mention or even be aware of the presence of a man-eating monster in the vicinity, to the detriment of all concerned. 

Harlan is the best thing about this, because he takes the consumption of his daughter very, very personally. This gives him a motive that’s more specific than most hunters, and Adkins is almost unhinged in his portrayal. He rants on multiple occasions about the shark killing for sport rather than food, and this whole angle almost feels like Moby Dick – or Orca, though Adkins is not exactly Richard Harris. It’s certainly more fun to watch than half-a-dozen young adults chatting to no particular effect, while the audience waits for them to get eaten. Which, I’m pleased to report, does happen to the majority of them in due course, through a series of moderately graphic scenes. 

Jesse, it turns out, just graduated from pre-med, and I expected this medical knowledge to show relevance at some point. Don’t worry about it. I’m guessing her courses must not have covered treating shark-induced trauma with a towel and a belt, because she’s as useless and weepy as any civilian. She does eventually grow a spine, teaming up with Harlan for a final confrontation with the creature which is… certainly something. Note: “certainly something” should not be taken as an endorsement, or indication of any actual quality. The film ends in a way that suggests Lee is hopeful of this becoming a franchise, Harlan sailing the world as some kind of mercenary shark hitman. Likely more entertaining a concept than this is capable of delivering, to be frank. 

This review is part of Shark Week 2022: Chum Assembly Required.

Shark Bait (2022)

Rating: B

Director: James Nunn
Star: Holly Earl, Jack Trueman, Catherine Hannay, Malachi Pullar-Latchman
a.k.a. Jetski

I guess we saved the most fun for last, though it did not exactly get off to a promising start. Within 90 seconds, we had already had enough of the insufferable, young, attractive, American abroad, douchebags, and were firmly part of Team Shark. I mean, we were getting T-shirts printed up and everything. Nothing less than an 80% mortality rate was going to be acceptable because, as ever, in the group of five, there was one who seemed decent. Here, it’s Nat (Earl), who at least has the decency to furrow her brow in a disapproving manner, when her friends steal a pair of jetskis. Doesn’t stop her from hopping on board for the subsequent joyride though. 

Karmic justice is served quickly. A crash leaves both craft disabled, and one of the group with a gnarly open fracture of the leg, bleeding profusely into the ocean. I’m sure you can more or less figure out the rest, and why the distributors wisely changed the title from the damn awful original one. Expect more or less all the clichés of the genre: no cellphone reception, failed attempts to go for help, more poorly-considered choices, etc. Sure, it’s obvious and hardly novel. Yet at the risk of stating the obvious: this is a killer shark movie. We’re here to feel intellectually superior to these people, and watch them get eaten. On that basis, this must be considered a resounding success on both fronts, predictability be damned.

It helps that this is probably the only film we’ve seen this week where people actually act like they are being devoured. This actually begins with Mr. Broken Leg, who sells his injury, delivering the energetic enthusiasm of someone making his debut in the WWE. Naturally, he becomes the first to go down the throat, which does at least save the film from the modern cinematic capital offense of having the black guy die first. None of which really count as spoilers, since they are both signposted well in advance. There is also some additional guilt, in which we discover Nat’s boyfriend has been a bit of a slut. Cue more furrowed disapproval, and naturally, eventual karmic retribution with a fin, swimming up for dinner.

This is also about the sole entry where a shark attack victim looks like they have been on the receiving end of gnawing. You’ll usually get a bit of blood, but very little in the way of actual mutilation. Here, one guy survives his encounter and is very much the worse for wear. Though, as shown top, others are even worse off. It’s not quite the hardcore splat-shark action, for which I still yearn, yet it’s at least in the right direction. Director Nunn previously did the awesome One Shot, which I named the best movie of 2021. This isn’t at the same level, yet I was genuinely entertained for the whole time – even the early hate-watching – and I’m happy to honour it as the best of Shark Week 2022.

This review is part of Shark Week 2022: Chum Assembly Required.