Shark Swarm (DVD)
Reviewed by The Buz
Starring John Schneider, Daryl Hannah, Armand Assante, forty pissed off man-eaters
Directed by James A. Contner
Distributed by Genius Products
Sharks are fierce. That's a fact. You know what's also fierce? A fuck ton of sharks. More to the point, a Shark Swarm! *cues ominous music* Such is the title of the new entry into the Man-Eater series and the Hallmark Channel's foray into the horror genre.
First off, I love sharks. I saw Jaws as a wee lad, and sharks have both terrified and fascinated me ever since. In essence I'm a sucker for killer shark movies. From Jaws to Deep Blue Sea to even Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. As a matter of fact I'm listening to the Jaws soundtrack as I write this. I just can't get enough of sharks eating oblivious swimmers off of coasts (or sometimes up rivers), so of course when I heard there was going to be a mini-series about multiple sharks attacking everything in sight, I was ecstatic.
When Dan Wilder (John Schneider), Full Moon Bay's local fisherman, refuses to sell his land to the greedy Hamilton Lux (Armand Assante), Lux begins to dump toxic waste into the bay to destroy the local fish population and eventually starve Daniel and his family out into selling their land. All in the name of really expensive condos. However, the toxins aren't killing the local sharks; instead they are increasing their aggressiveness. With no fish to eat, the sharks begin to turn to the only other thing in the water they can eat. Humans. The great thing here, though, is that we're not just dealing with a couple of great whites or a few killer makos. It's a gaggle of killer sharks. A shark swarm! *cues ominous music again* There are threshers, makos, hammerheads, bull sharks, and of course big mean great whites. In very large angry packs. So now it is up to Daniel, his wife (a lackluster Daryl Hannah), his marine biologist brother, a concerned E.P.A agent, and F. Murray Abraham as the genius college professor Bill Girdler to expose Mr. Lux's plan and stop the killer swarm from destroying their coastal town.
Now this is a made-for-TV movie, and with it comes some baggage. But first the good. Surprisingly, the production values for Shark Swarm are incredibly high, especially for a TV movie. The cinematography is fantastic, and the set pieces are pretty good. The score isn't bad either, reminding me somewhat of Aliens in some parts. But the best thing going for Shark Swarm is its characters. Leave to the Hallmark Channel to cast normal looking people instead of supermodels for every role. John Schneider does an excellent job playing stubborn family man Dan Wilder as he earnestly tries to convince the town of Hamilton of Lux's dirty tricks. He comes across as flesh and blood, which I dug and is something you rarely see in TV movies. His first mate Clint (Brent King), however, steals the show. As the young happy-go-lucky kid eager to make a living, he was by far my favorite character. There is a great father/son approach to Daniel and Clint's relationship, making Clint one of the most sympathetic and interesting characters to watch. Even though the characters aren't the same in any way, his name does rhyme with Quint so he could be a subtle nod to Jaws, though I could just be reaching on that one.
Dan's brother, Phil Wilder, who teaches marine biology at the local college, is also one of the best characters. Roark Critchlow, the actor playing Phil, must have seen Shark Attack 3: Megalodon before shooting began because he channels John Barrowman's character throughout the film. His interaction with E.P.A agent Amy Zuckerman (Heather McComb) screams THE LINE. Whenever he was on screen talking, I kept quietly whispering the sacred LINE and then chuckled to myself. He's hilarious and has some of the greatest flirting techniques I've ever heard. In fact the film has a lot of great bits of dialogue, one of my favorites being: “Did you show her your longboard?” That made me laugh hysterically. Phil Wilder also shares the most screen time with F. Murray Abraham, who is always fun to watch .
The bad guys are also very well written and rounded out. I'm a firm believer in having strong bad guys, ala Grueber from Die Hard, and not one-dimensional ones, a la Bennet from Commando. While Hamilton Lux and Kane Markus are no Grueber(s), they are still very good at displaying real motivations and are charismatic people. Hamilton Lux (which could also be a reference to Jaws because Murray Hamilton played Mayor Larry Vaughn, the antagonist in Jaws) is liked by everyone in town, and he keeps his head cool when under fire from the Wilder clan. All in all, though, he is just a greedy corporate whore. His henchman Kane, while playing up to be overtly Italian, has some great witty banter with Daniel and comes off as a very loyal employee of Mr. Lux (is Kane gonna have to choke a bitch?).
You'd think because it's Hallmark that the amount of kills would be cut down. Not here. I kept a running tally, and according to my calculations there is body count of thirty-seven and a hand. That is the single highest body count of any killer shark movie I've ever seen. And they show no mercy with whom they kill. From emo-environmentalists to Baptist churchgoers, the sharks kill and eat everything in sight. They even torture a poor little girl throughout the film a la Piranha. Speaking of which, many of the attack scenes were very reminiscent of that film with sharks sucking folks through inner tubes and swarming upon groups of people like big fucking vicious piranha. Of course, this made me happy. The CGI, while shoddy in some places, looks fairly good overall. Better than most killer shark movies, and especially great for a TV movie. The sharks also make the same noise as the smoke monster from "Lost", which was a little odd, but it's better than a roaring shark like the one from Jaws: The Revenge.
The pacing is also a plus. Coming in at 164 minutes, it is a pretty long watch. However, it really doesn't feel that long because the shark attacks just keep coming, and it doesn't let up. Needless to say, I was never bored.
With good comes bad. My two biggest complaints are Daryl Hannah and the shark attacks themselves. With movies like Blade Runner, Kill Bill, and Dancing at the Blue Iguana on her resume, I always thought Hannah was a fairly good actress. After her performance in Shark Swarm *cues ominous music a third time for continuity's sake* though, I have a few doubts. She is completely dry and emotionless throughout the entire film. It is the very definition of a phoned-in performance. I found it hard not to laugh every time she talked to someone because she looked slightly cross-eyed. She even made what was supposed to be a very emotional scene into a dry and almost comedic one. Hannah was just utterly terrible. This, of course, makes me question if she was ever a good actress. Could she have been fooling us all this entire time? Could killer shark swarms have finally revealed her for the cardboard cut-out she is? I'll have to do more research on this subject and get back to you.
Her daughter was also a bit of a stiff. While the actress did a fine job, she seemed to always be wandering aimlessly on the beach for no apparent reason whatsoever with a somewhat vacant, soulless look. Or she could have just been prowling for surfer cock, so who am I to judge?
As for the shark attack scenes, if I have to see one more blood puddle in the ocean, I'm going to shoot somebody. It was like the ocean was having its period. As I said before, there are thirty-seven kills with an attack probably every ten or fifteen minutes. While I fully appreciated this, almost every attack consisted of the sharks just biting at the screen and then a pool of blood appearing on the surface of the water. That's it. While for a TV movie it is incredibly violent, it would have been nice to actually see the sharks bite someone instead of just the aftermath. It seems like they ran out of money and could only afford a water cannon full of fake blood. They could have easily cut out a few of the shark attacks and expanded on a few others. In one of the best scenes in the movie a group of scuba divers are attacked. It is filmed wonderfully, but this is the only scene where you actually get to see a shark bite someone. Other than that ... blood puddle. I'm sure Hallmark's regular audience will find the blood puddles quite terrifying though.
Another problem I had with the film was the absence of concern. No one really seemed to care that about twenty or so people had gone missing. There are few mentions of them here and there such as: “Hey, have you seen so-and-so?” or “Where'd that lifeguard boy go?” but no real cause for concern. When twenty plus people have disappeared in a small town over a period of two days, I think people would be a bit more freaked out.
And while the pacing of the film was brisk, there were many poorly edited scenes. Sometimes shots would just not flow well together. I'd blame this mainly on attempting to cut out certain violent shots by cutting them short.
The climax of the film is also a little lacking. Our main characters get their hands on electric pulse guns and begin shooting the swarms of sharks with them to “scramble their circuits.” While this was awesome initially, it was kind of a letdown when that's all they were doing to fight the sharks. I'd be curious to know if there was a bigger climax written but then cut due to budget constraints and the pulse guns were all that got used. However, the climax also comes with a lot of great shark attacks, and we're given a little more than just a blood puddle. For that I was thankful. After the big finale with the bad guys getting their retribution, as well as a bitch bartender, I found myself slipping into a diabetic coma with the overly sweet crane shot of all the survivors hugging on the beach. That wasn't necessary.
Basically, I enjoyed myself. Most killer shark movies these days are nothing short of awful, but Shark Swarm *cues ominous music for the last time until the sequel* kept me entertained the whole way through, and it rightfully deserves its place as one of the better films in the killer animal movie genre. The filmmakers did their research and pulled off a convincing and entertaining thrill ride, with just a few too many blood puddles. It is something I would respectfully place between Jaws and Piranha on my DVD shelves. And at least it didn't have an LL Cool J song to accompany the credits, even though his hat was like a shark's fin.
In any case, you're still going to need a bigger boat.
3 out of 5
0 out of 5
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