Starring: Sara Paxton, Katharine McPhee, Dustin Milligan, Joel David Moore, and Sinqua Walls. Directed by: David R. Ellis
When I first heard that Shark Night 3D was being made, my initial reaction was one of great anticipation. Last August, when Piranha 3D was released, I was taken aback (in a great way) by its flat-out CELEBRATION of its extreme R-rating. Horror fans wanting to see a fun monster movie featuring copious amounts of gore and nudity couldn’t have possibly done better last summer. And so, when it was revealed that Shark Night 3D was to be rated PG-13, my anticipation turned to apprehension, and I was convinced that there was NO way the film would be truly scary. Sometimes it sucks to be right.
The basic premise of Shark Night 3D is simple: a group of college students travel to the summer home of one of their rich friends, which happens to be located on a small island in the middle of a salt-water lake. Shortly after arriving, everyone has stripped down to their bathing suits and they’re all set for a weekend of drinking, wake-boarding, and other assorted activities. A few hours later, during one such wake-boarding adventure, one of the friends is knocked from his board by something large swimming just below the surface. After a tense minute, the man resurfaces… minus an appendage. Hoping to save his friend, another of the group quickly dives in to the lake to retrieve it… and sees a large shark prowling the depths. Now, with one of their friends dying and help literally hours away, the group is in a race against time, and it’s a race they are losing.
There IS more to the plot of Shark Night 3D…but not much more. This is one of those films that is so poorly acted, so simplistic, and so clichéd, that it really should have been a direct-to-video “SyFy Original” movie… the kind where the viewer can predict exactly who will live, who will die, and who the villains are. The characters are all cardboard cutouts who can actually be labeled: there’s the “rich girl”, Sara (Sara Paxton), the “nice guy”, Nick (Dustin Milligan), the “loveable nerd”, Gordon (Joel David Moore), the “bad girl”, Beth (singer Katharine McPhee), the “jock”, Malik (Sinqua Walls), the “jock’s girlfriend”, Maya (Alyssa Diaz), and the “pretty boy”, Blake (Chris Zylka). And, since the town that the lake is attached to is small and secluded, there of course have to be a few “redneck locals”, Dennis and Red (Chris Carmack and Joshua Leonard), and an “inept sheriff”, played by Donal Logue (who is actually a GREAT actor and has no business being in this film).
So, with the plot and the performances so sadly lacking, my hopes for the movie’s redemption were pinned directly to the sharks (yes, there’s more than one), and to clever use of 3D, which as of late has been a much-maligned gimmick that movie-goers have been less than impressed with. My reasoning was that if the sharks were at least cool to look at, and the 3D effect was done well and didn’t make my head hurt, then I could elevate the film to “guilty pleasure” status and not feel that I had just lost eleven bucks on the ticket price. I got what I wanted… to some degree. The sharks are, at times, genuinely frightening to behold. Using a combination of CG effects and animatronics, director David R. Ellis (Snakes on a Plane) manages to create a few truly tense scenes. Unfortunately, once the sharks share the screen with live people, the fact that they are not real becomes glaringly apparent, and they appear very “low budget”. The radio-controlled creatures fare much better in that regard, but sadly, they see very little screen time compared to the CG creations. The 3D effects are, in all honesty, quite good compared to some other 3D films I’ve seen (I’m looking at YOU, The Last Airbender). The underwater sequences provide images of amazing depth, and I felt drawn in during those scenes. The film’s PG-13 rating really takes its toll during these moments, however, as all the things that many movie-goers EXPECT to see in these kinds of films (severed limbs, etc.) are conspicuously absent. Nothing really happens above-water that merits the 3D surcharge, with a few exceptions that I will not spoil in this review.
At the end of the day, Shark Night 3D is a film that I just can’t bring myself to care about. The fun 3D effects and cheesy CG sharks just aren’t enough to make up for the terrible, predictable plot and second-rate performances. Combine that with a lack of any real shark-attack violence, and you have a film that is basically pointless.