Make no mistake: David R. Ellis’ name will go down in the history of cinema. The former stuntman showed an early affinity for animals with Homeward Bound 2: Lost in San Francisco. Ellis parlayed those wrangling abilities with the infamous Snakes on a Plane, with a few pitstops at The Final Destination franchise along the way. Riding on the wave of success of Piranha 3D, Ellis is out to prove that it’s never safe to go back in the water with Shark Night 3D.
A group of college kids head up to the vacation home of Sara (Sara Paxton, The Innkeepers) to drink some booze and enjoy the nautical pursuits of lakeside living. Things immediately go awry when they run into Sara’s acquaintance Dennis (Chris Carmack) and his redneck buddy, but the gang soon gets on with their trip. At least that is until one of them is attacked by a shark, and as sure as they will go back in the water, the group is picked off one by one.
There are at least three things wrong with the title of Shark Night 3D. Let’s focus on the obvious one: a good 80% of the film is set during the day, or mid-morning. Yet this is one of the lesser plot holes in the debut feature script of Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg. The basic hurdle that all shark or similar blood-in-the-ocean movies must overcome is thinking up decent reasons for the cast to keep going back in the water. Otherwise the film would be over as soon as the group realises that the finned devils can’t get up onto that dry stuff they walk around on, and nor can they catch inner-city buses to high-rise hotels. So with that in mind, the one thing that Shark Night 3D gets right is a decent reason for the kids to be stuck on the island, with a medical emergency (and a threat that presents itself later in the film) ample reason to risk being fish food.
Shark Night 3D throws out the traditional rules of a horror movie, but don’t mistake this for originality. In typical spam-in-a-cabin style, we are introduced to our leads one-by-one, knowing that we will be saying goodbye to them in a similar fashion once they reach their final destination. As such, it is usually good form to get them where they are going quickly so that they can be shuffled off the mortal coil with as much haste as humanly possible. After what seems like an eternity, the gang finally sets out on their trip and it has to be at least an hour before anybody sets foot in the water. Once the killings do start, there is no style, no flash and certainly minimal use of the 3D. They are bodies to be dispensed, and this is carried out in a business-like fashion.
What is particularly perplexing about Shark Night 3D is just how coy it is with the subject matter. With Piranha 3D having already shown us what one can get away with in term of the quality and quantity of boobs and bloodletting, Ellis seems to go out of his way to to avoid both of them. Any hint of nudity is sidelined, and even more bizarrely, most fo the killings take place off camera. Indeed, whenever the water starts to turns red with corn syrup, the camera quickly cuts away to something less interesting. Normally such restraint is something to be praised, but here it only serves to highlight how weak every other aspect of the film is. There is a shark that manages to grab a victim out of a tree. Yes, a tree. Perhaps dry land may not have saved them.
The direct-to-video market has seen a flood of fanged fishy friends over the last few years, largely thanks to the evil geniuses around Roger Corman or the just plain evil at Asylum. Films like Sharktopus and to a lesser extent Mega Piranha work because they innately understand their core audience’s desire for the ridiculous and the exploitative, tempered with a knowing wink that they are in on how bad it is. Shark Night 3D appears to be devoid of any such self-awareness and worse still, it may think it is making something better than a cheap horror film. A film is a bit like a shark, after all, in that it has to keep moving or else it will die. What we have on our hands here is an ex-shark.
Shark Night 3D was released in Australia on 10 November 2011 from Icon.