There are so many shark movies being released of late that it’s almost impossible for one to differentiate itself, so credit to The Black Demon for putting a spin on an overdone concept by including some local mythology. The shark that terrorizes Josh Lucas and his family isn’t just any old shark; it’s a megalodon that’s also part of an ancient curse, which has been awoken because of an oil spill. Because if there’s one thing Mother Nature hates, it’s oil spilling into her beautiful oceans. If that concept piques your curiosity, strap in for a whole lot of talking with very little shark action.
Lucas is Paul, a safety inspector in Mexico who is one his way to visit a soon-to-be decommissioned oil rig that’s out in the middle of the ocean. Along for the ride are his wife and kids. Initially, they’re not supposed to go the site with him, but the locals immediately terrorize the trio so they soon venture out to join Paul in what is clearly the last place anybody would really want to be. In fact, as he’s heading out to sea, the harbormaster tears up a photo of Paul, suggesting he’s not long for this world, while the man who’s actually taking him to the rig refuses to go beyond a certain point (really, it’s a miracle Paul makes it across).
The reason why soon becomes clear when Ines (Fernanda Urrejola) and her two young charges rock up to the rig only to witness the poor guy who brought them over being eaten by a gigantic shark who jumps out of the water to smash his boat in two (sadly, this is one of the movie’s better images, which is really saying something). It quickly becomes clear that there’s no way off the rig and, with the shark circling menacingly and time running out–due to a strategically-placed bomb underneath the structure–Paul and the only two workers left behind must figure out how to survive.
A goofy voice-over establishes the various myths surrounding the titular beast right off the bat but, for some reason, co-screenwriters Carlos Cisco and Boise Esquerra feel the need to reiterate it constantly with repetitive conversations that hammer the point home to mind-numbing extent. Essentially, The Black Demon surrounds an environmental curse, or mankind’s punishment for destroying the planet, which is localized to this rig and Paul in particular because he was instrumental in keeping it going for years, decimating not just the surrounding area but the local economy too.
If the parallels weren’t clear enough, Ines tells him: “You are the monster, not that thing out there.” Likewise, another character states plainly at one point: “It’s Mother Nature holding us accountable.” Making a movie about a gigantic, vengeful shark this boring should be a criminal offense, especially given the evocative mythology it employs. Part of the problem is the creature itself, which barely features and, when it does, doesn’t make much of an impact. The ocean is scary all by itself, especially in darkness, but most of the action takes place in daylight, on the rig, emphasizing how unconvincing the CG shark is. It looks better from far away for sure, but even then, it’s pretty terrible.
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The prologue, set at night-time, is decent enough, even including a view from inside the shark’s mouth in a reference to Jaws 3D (side note: the score is a total Jaws ripoff, as expected) but these few minutes include arguably the only scare in the entire film. For a movie set in the middle of the ocean, The Black Demon is very dry. Learning that the shark makes its victims hallucinate(!?) and seeing a child replace an ancient statue with a Snickers bar suggests that it’s going to be fun, or at the very least knowingly silly, but everybody plays it completely straight and there are far too many scenes of characters standing around explaining the plot to each other with punishingly few shark attacks to break them up.
This is the kind of sharksploitation movie where the shark consistently nips at people’s heels despite its demonstrable size and speed. The body count is obviously going to be low because the story focuses on a family but regardless, The Black Demon is disappointingly lacking in viscera and flat in its execution. The dialogue is incredibly overwrought, to the extent that the central metaphor couldn’t even reasonably be considered a metaphor anymore, and yet it’s unclear whether Paul is supposed to be an out-and-out villain or someone who’s learned the error of his ways at the worst possible moment (he respects the culture enough to scold his son for being judgmental but not enough to heed the locals’ warnings).
There’s an impressive amount of dialogue in Spanish, which is good because it means the setting doesn’t just feel like set dressing, and there’s a good sense of place even if the location is used to create the kind of fear among the unwanted out-of-towners that’s usually associated with xenophobia (more than once, Paul is snidely referred to as a “gringo”). Some of the shooting choices, meanwhile, are bizarre with a variety of close-ups, smash zooms, and other strange angles that do nothing besides bring further attention to how dull and uninvolving the story is. The movie owes a massive debt to Deep Blue Sea, which had the good sense to be both exciting and dumb (the animatronics are unbeatable too).
Lucas gives it his best shot as the tortured Paul, who’s got more secrets up his sleeve than he lets on, even to his family. But once he gets angry, the performance stays at a ten, meaning it’s tough to empathize with him or even understand where Paul is coming from half the time since his reactions seem more than a little outsized. The actor is gradually becoming a horror stalwart, having appeared in The First Purge and She Dies Tomorrow, both of which are stronger movies than this one. Maybe for his next role, Lucas will get something really meaty to chew on. As for The Black Demon, simply put, there’s too much oil stuff and not nearly enough shark.
WICKED RATING: 4/10
Director(s): Adrian Grünberg
Writer(s): Carlos Cisco, Boise Esquerra
Stars: Josh Lucas, Fernanda Urrejola, Héctor Jiménez
Release date: April 28, 2023
Run Time: 100 minutes