Sharksploitation is tough to get right. Latest attempt Great White certainly doesn’t compare to Jaws, or even its modern counterparts Deep Blue Sea and The Shallows, but it’s not exactly rotting at the bottom of the ocean either. The feature debut from Aussie director Martin Wilson, which was scripted by Michael Boughen, is the kind of movie it’s easy rather than exciting to watch. The characters fall into the water a lot – one in particular, we’ll call her the Bridget Fonda of this equation except it doesn’t seem to be being played for a joke here – and sometimes make dumb decisions but, for the most part, they’re fairly easy to root for and it’s not totally obvious who’s going to survive either.
Kicking off with that classic sharksploitation scene-setter, the couple having a romantic time in the ocean before a big ol’ beast comes along to ruin their fun, Great White establishes its strengths right from the outset – namely, the locations, which are absolutely breathtaking, so gorgeous in fact it almost seems worth it to get in the water with hungry sharks just to experience such crystal-clear depths. Being able to see all the way down to the ocean floor is ominous too, of course, as is a truly bizarre sex scene captured through a fish tank containing a teeny shark model, which may or may not be intended as foreshadowing.
This amorous couple is Katrina Bowden’s Kaz and eager-to-please Charlie (Neighbours star Aaron Jakubenko), who run their own mildly successful charter company and, on this fateful day, are tasked with bringing out a couple of rich folks – one of whom is introduced via the iconic Titanic hat shot! – to Hell’s Reef which, let’s just get this out of the way immediately, definitely sounds like somewhere people would willingly choose to go. Ahem. Great White has lots of fun playing with how the group is going to get stranded out at sea, spending plenty of time situating them on the island and establishing the charged dynamics between the quintet. The way it eventually happens is silly, but such is the fun of these kinds of movies – why watch if you don’t want to see sharks ramming stuff, right?
Charlie has a massive scar from a previous shark-related incident that the movie keeps highlighting, but otherwise there are very few shots of the animal itself aside from one terrific scene involving its jaws emerging terrifyingly out of the water. It’s always better to hold back on showing the full thing, particularly when relying on CG integrated with footage of real sharks swimming around, as they appear to be doing here, and there’s a decent amount of good fin action throughout but it would’ve been nice to see more of the shark. The final battle gives us a decent look, but it also involves a moment that the film’s poster has inexplicably spoiled, which robs the sequence of some much-needed tension.
Although certain parts understandably must be shot in a tank, to protect the actors and crew, these moments are also woefully obvious chiefly because of how stunning and expansive the cinematography is when the group is genuinely out at sea. However, a shipwreck that appears to be really there almost makes up for it, especially given how well it’s used as a kind of underwater torture chamber. If the crew created it, fair enough, but if the rusted thing was there for real, it’s a brilliant find. Elsewhere, director Wilson plays with silence and darkness well even if he does succumb to the strange shark roaring thing that’s become prevalent in these movies (do the little ones bark?).
There aren’t too many characters for the shark to pick off, but all five of them make a decent impression even if our main heroes are a bland, blonde couple with a bland, blonde baby on the way and one of their charges is a totally one-note villain who might as well have “shark bait” written on his forehead. Typically, watching horrible people get chomped by underwater beasties is part of the fun of ocean-based horror movies, and Great White certainly isn’t predictable when it comes to who will make it back to the mainland. Likewise, the film doesn’t play it safe either, which lends it the necessary tension that’s often missing whenever the shark isn’t bobbing around. All of which is to say Great White is perfectly watchable, but not much more than that.
Catch Great White in theaters, On Demand and on Digital from July 16, 2021
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Martin Wilson
Writer(s): Michael Boughen
Stars: Katrina Bowden, Aaron Jakubenko, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Tim Kano, Te Kohe Tuhaka
Release date: July 16, 2021
Studio/Production Company: Altitude Media Group
Run Time: 91 minutes