Unless you currently reside on the underside of a rock, you are familiar with the virus that is causing panic around the world. I am not going to address that directly because I am not a virologist and there are enough opinions and misleading headlines as it is. But it did get me thinking…
There are things out there that can cause us harm, even kill us. But sometimes you can’t see them, can’t control them. It scares me to know that an unseen threat can be lurking behind every sneeze or Costco free sample tray. The Chernobyl incident demonstrated how invisible radiation can infiltrate our air, water and land, causing horrific implications for generations. We can’t trap it, imprison it, or give it a good talking to. It just IS.
I remember watching a video of a woman swimming in the open sea getting her leg ripped off by a Great White. Real-life footage. She was on a cruise and a group of folks decided to take a dip to cool off. All of a sudden whitey appears, keys in on that lady, and takes her leg clean off at the hip. Holy hell. She lived to tell her tale but imagine the helplessness and horror of an unseen creature coming out of the blue. How long had it been watching? Why her? Sweet baby christ, that got my attention.
(Quick note that I never will imply that sharks target people. They don’t. This was obviously a hungry pelagic shark taking advantage of a prey source in a scarce environment. Regardless…yowza!)
The best of the best sharksploitation films prey on this fear of the unseen and uncontrollable. A raging killing machine that lurks in the darkest depths can be looking up at our witty bitty toes and salivating. With one mighty flick of its tail, it assaults us with the power of a freight train and we become lunch. It’s messy, it’s bloody, and it’s a pretty shitty way to die. And we never see it coming.
Granted, you can theoretically capture and kill the shark, and many of the protagonists end up doing just that at the end. Maybe we get a little “huzzah!” moment when that happens. But that is not why we watch a shark movie. Those of us smitten by this humble sub-genre want to be dazzled by terror and jump out of our skin when that unseen fear emerges. The best ones achieve this by hiding the monster. Maybe it’s not hidden for the entire film, but the most suspenseful scenes shine a spotlight on our fear of the unknown while simultaneously leaving us in the dark.
Jaws is the grandpappy of all shark movies and partially because it does this like a fucking boss. With the exception of the little profile glimpse in the pond scene and a little fin action during Alex Kitner’s death, we don’t see the monster for a fucking loooong time. Even when the boys are chasing the thing in the Orca, the movie makes us shit our pants with misdirection everytime one of those barrels pops to the surface. When we do see the shark, it’s a total “oh shit” moment. The shark may look goofy to us now, but back then…damn.
Nowadays, we have the scourge of the CGI shark. I have already addressed in previous blogs that no one seems to get a CGI shark right. Bad teeth, bad anatomy, wrong species, the list goes on and on. We can’t fix this with more CGI. Just hide the damn monster. Please.
Deep Blue Sea is very heavily dependent on CGI but the most terrifying scenes are when the sharks are hidden. The opening of the film shows a group of partying idiots on a boat getting attacked by something big and hungry and mysterious. Yikes. When we arrive at Aquatica, one of the scientist’s comments about the pens holding the super-smart predators, “beneath this glassy surface, a world of gliding monsters.” That shit is scary.
Open Water follows a couple in a truly crappy situation, adrift alone in the sea, abandoned by the fucktards that brought them there. Much of the movie focuses on their reactions to being bumped and molested by countless sharks, but we see very little of them. Especially at night. Imagine if you will, floating haplessly in the open ocean being nudged by hungry sharks and not being able to see a damn thing. Fuck.
Even more recent films such as Bait know how to work this angle. In that review, I wrote “For a good amount of the film, the sharks are hidden and I like it sooooo much better that way. There is suspense and tension, the water is dark and mysterious, the sharks are all sneaky. One of the movie’s shining moments comes when the sharks are first noticed by the group. You don’t see the shark but rather see a floating pile of debris moving along at a sharky pace, topped off by a soggy and very creepy doll’s head. As the shark approaches its victim, the doll dips below the surface like a barrel from the Orca, and boom goes the dynamite!” Overall, that is not the greatest movie because the rest of the time we get smacked in the eyeballs with horrible CGI sharks. If they had just kept the monster hidden!
There are appropriate times to let your CGI freak flag fly. When the entire point of the movie is a ridiculous mutant shark of some kind, we kind of have to see that. So this article does not apply to you Sharkenstein, Sharktopus, Sharknado, Toxic Shark, 6-Headed Shark Attack, etc. Those movies are not really seeking to scare us. They just wanna have fun. Unfortunately, the popularity of these campy flicks are pushing the truly scary shark movies out of the frame.
So please, I implore you, oh mighty moviemakers. Make a scary shark movie. Hide the monster. Humanity is ripe for the taking right now and horror always has a way of knowing when to tap into our unseen fears.
See ya next time!