12 Days of Terror (2004)

Starring Colin Egglesfield, John Rhys-Davies, Mark Dexter, Jenna Harrison

Directed by Jack Sholder

Believe it or not, I’m actually something of a history buff. I probably watch more programming on the History Channel than the Sci-Fi Channel. It was on the History Channel that I first saw a special chronicling the 12 days in the summer of 1916 when a shark terrorized the New Jersey coast. While the actual body count was minuscule in comparison to the number of people killed in your average Jaws rip-off, one has to keep in mind that this sort of thing was unheard of at the time. As the film documents, scientists were still pretty ignorant when it came to shark behavior, and after the first attack they are shown scoffing at the notion that a shark could swim in with the gulf stream so close to shore and attack people without provocation. The arrogance of their own self assurance in a science they are only just beginning to comprehend proves fatal when the shark comes back for more.

The film 12 Days of Terror, based on a non-fiction book about the subject, was apparently made for the Discovery Channel back in 2004. Somehow I missed it then because I hadn’t even heard of the film until a little over a month ago and was really looking forward to seeing it because we don’t get too many nature gone amok movies based on true stories.

For all intents and purposes 12 Days of Terror is a competently made film that grows increasingly dull when it should be increasingly tense. For a movie called 12 Days of Terror there’s absolutely no terror to be found. Most of the shark attacks happen off-camera and consist of little more than people screaming and thrashing about as the water turns blood red. There’s little sense of urgency to the situation, and the bulk of the shark attacks don’t even occur until around the halfway point. There’s more melodrama than thriller to be found here, and that’s not a good thing for a film entitled 12 Days of Terror.

Aside from the relatively bland cast of characters that populate the film, another major problem is that the novelty of the period setting wears thin quickly, especially seeing as how the film suffers from many of the problems that have plagued countless other Jaws knock-offs. I know the tale of the 1916 shark attacks inspired Peter Benchley to write Jaws, but watching 12 Days of Terror it feels the other way around. Shark attack. We’ve got to close the beach. We won’t close the beach because it’s the big tourist season. Another shark attack. We should have listened to you but we have our doubts. More shark attacks. Me and the crusty old sea captain are going to take his boat out to catch the shark. Does any of this sound familiar?

Colin Egglesfield plays generi-hunk lifeguard Alex, an earnest young fellow that loves the water and longs for an end to the war going on in Europe because it has put the Olympic Games and his dream of being an Olympic swimmer on hiatus. Alex also serves as the film’s narrator, and his voiceovers are just as bland as his performance. There really isn’t anything wrong with Egglesfield’s performance other than the fact that he displays what I like to call “soap opera charisma.” By that I mean that the actor is physically attractive, and while not necessarily a bad actor, he simply displays little or no true on-screen charisma. There’s a reason why few soap opera stars have ever gone on to become big name movie stars. It should come as no surprise to look up Egglesfield on IMDB and find out that his current gig is on “All My Children.”

To be fair, there isn’t a single character to be found here that isn’t a one-dimensional bore with the lone exception of John Rhys-Davies as the crusty old sea captain. This character may have had an actual name, but he’s such a caricature that just calling him “crusty old sea captain” seems far more appropriate. Rhys-Davies plays the pipe-smoking salt of the sea like he just walked right out of a stage production of a Herman Melville novel. At times he’s one “Ahoy, matey!” away from being a live action version of the Sea Captain from “The Simpsons.” Everyone else is either extremely bland or trying too hard to talk in that annoying vaudevillian style that people in a turn of the century movie are usually portrayed as speaking.

Much like another made-for-TV shark film, CBS’ Spring Break Shark Attack, 12 Days of Terror tends to fall back on material that has nothing to do with the shark. Outside of the main storyline involving the shark, a plot that again doesn’t really kick into high gear until halfway in, we also get a poorly constructed love triangle involving Alex, the woman Alex was once romantically involved with, and one of his best friends, to whom she is now engaged. Alex clearly still has feelings for the young woman, and she clearly still has feelings for him. Boy, wouldn’t it be convenient if a shark would come along and killed the other guy?

There’s also a seemingly unnecessary subplot involving a guy I think was supposed to be some fearless circus lion tamer that shows up looking to use the shark as a means for personal fame and fortune. He drags with him his nebbish fraidy cat sidekick for some really weak comic relief.

Alex and crusty old sea captain head out in his rickety boat to catch the shark during the finale that plays out like a poor man’s Jaws. Yes, they do eventually kill the shark and everyone lives happily ever after. One major problem: none of this actually happened. Every account of the 1916 New Jersey shark incident I’m aware of states that not only was the actual species of the shark never identified (even though the film quickly labels it a Great White shark) but the shark was neither caught nor killed; it eventually headed back out to sea. Those two facts are really what made the whole incident so remarkable. That the film opens with a graphic telling the viewer the movie is based on a true story yet concludes with a seemingly fabricated finale feels like a slap in the face to anyone that knows anything about the subject matter.

In all fairness, much of my disinterest in the film probably stems from the fact that I’m already well familiar with the true fact of the case and the film simply wasn’t strong enough to sustain my interest. Those not familiar with the incident or looking for a different take on the killer shark genre, well, at least a different setting, might have more patience for the movie than I had. For me, 12 Days of Terror was just 90 minutes of tedium.

2 out of 5

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