Movie Review: ‘Great White’

Review by James Lindorf

Sharks have been captivating audiences since “Jaws” made us afraid of the water in 1975. Interest in the underwater predators continued to grow over the years until Discovery Channel created Shark Week in 1988. There have been dozens if not hundreds of shark-related films in those nearly 50 years, and they range from small indie films like “Open Water” to large-scale blockbusters like “The Meg.” The latest entry into this subgenre is the now available Shudder exclusive “Great White.” Directed by newcomer Martin Wilson based on a Michael Boughen (Dying Breed) screenplay, “Great White” follows a group of five people as they struggle to survive the elements and an overly aggressive denizen of the deep.

“Great White” opens with easily its best sequence. A vacationing couple has anchored their boat not far from shore to enjoy a playful swim. It is the perfect afternoon until an ominous grey triangle breaks the surface, sending them scrambling for safety. Every element from acting, cinematography, and CGI is on par or better than the rest of the film. With another story beat or two, it could be cut out into a successful short film. Watching the main plot slowly unfold makes you wonder what happened to the person who wrote or directed this scene with so much energy.

While the best part of the movie is being terrorized not too far away, another couple, marine biologist Charlie (Aaron Jakubenko) and his girlfriend and business partner Kaz (Katrina Bowden), are having troubles of their own. They do their best to make a living by flying rich people to remote areas of the ocean and offering aquatic experiences like snorkeling. Still, we learn how deep their financial issues run when we are introduced to them. As luck would have it, their conversation is interrupted by a wealthy couple in need of their services at the last minute. Joji (Tim Kano) and Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi) need to visit an isolated cove that was the site of a terrible naval accident. A ship sank decades ago, claiming the lives of almost everyone on board dead except for Michelle’s Grandfather. Now that he has passed, they want to release the ashes in the cove so he can rest with his friends. Joining the two couples on the trip is Kaz and Charlie’s friend and only employee, charter Chef Benny (Te Kohe Tuhaka). Tension starts building within the group before the preflight check is done after Joji sees Benny and Michelle have a bit of chemistry. The infighting between characters is the most consistent aspect of the film. Maybe the message of Boughen’s script is that if they put aside their petty differences, perhaps everyone would survive what was supposed to be a 3-hour tour.

“Great White” wants to make audiences uneasy by focusing on isolation horror. They put our five characters in a very not shark-proof raft. They have limited supplies, and there is the threat of drifting further away from land if they make any missteps with their rowing. It works on that level because the prospect of being in that raft sounds terrible, but that is where the terror ends. The rest of the time is spent with the characters continuously bickering when convention says they should turn on each other or come together. The human drama is broken up with mostly uninteresting shark sightings or attacks. The craziest thing is Charlie, who was bitten by a shark years before, seems determined to let this one finish the job. He looks for any excuse to get back in the water. The people you would expect to live do, and the others lived only to turn the waters red.

“Great White” is far from the worst shark movie; the Sharknado series still exists after all. Wilson does a good enough job to leave you disappointed rather than angry. He deserves a chance to work again, maybe with a script with a firm plan for its protagonists. “Great White” is a 2.5 out of 5.

Genre: Mystery & Thriller, Adventure, Horror
Original Language: English
Director: Martin Wilson
Producer: Pam Collis, Neal Kingston, Michael Robertson
Writer: Michael Boughen
Release Date: November 18th, 2021
Runtime: 1h 31m

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