Five people are left adrift in a survival raft after their seaplane is attacked by a great white shark
Frequent visitors to this site will know that after most movie watches I fall down various internet rabbit-holes, googling everything from sightings of cryptozoological beasts to the accuracy of time travel paradoxes in Christopher Nolan films. While watching Australian shark survivalist movie Great White I actually paused my screener to investigate the reality of waterproof iPhones, and discovered I am in fact already the owner of a mobile that I can keep with me up to depths of 30 metres, should I ever venture further than waist-deep off England’s chilly beaches.
That question arose from the beginning of the film, where we see a gorgeous blogger/influencer couple taking of picture of themselves in the water off an idyllic reef, moments before he is attacked and killed. She makes it back to their boat, but does she survive?
Great whites might be ugly mugs but Great White is stunning: the cast; the gorgeous ocean, teal-blue beneath, sun-dappled above; the pale sands, blue skies and lush vegetation. Sadly for the Australian tourist board, the killer shark thing means that those holiday-postcard settings aren’t going to entice me over there — though if you’re facing yet another COVID summer without a vacation, the stupidity of some of the characters in Great White might give you an enjoyable frisson of schadenfreude.
I’ve watched this twice now. Initially I thought it was a generic animal attack thriller though on my second watch the good bits seemed better and the bad bits worse. It does nothing new with the genre, but though uneven it’s a fairly harmless way to pass the time, in among the water-thrashing, pointy fins and shark shadows. It lacks the silliness of Deep Blue Sea, a film which actually managed to surprise us with a shark death; the one-on-one battle of wills in The Shallows; or the shock, awe and allegory of the grandaddy of them all, Jaws. There’s an attempt at commentary, with a throwaway line about climate change impacting the shark’s feeding; though this shark seems to have something of a vendetta against the five young, hot, potential victims.
The whole plot is based on one remarkably stupid decision by seaplane pilot Charlie, which puts his girlfriend, employee and clients at risk of being devoured. One could argue that this is where Great White jumps the shark, except that, I suppose, some people really that dim. Charlie never really seems to understand what he’s done, and I’m not surprised that Joji, who is clearly being set up as the bad guy, is so furious.
Charlie (Aaron Jakubenko) and Kaz (Katrina Bowden) are struggling to make a go of their seaplane charter business. She’s an ex-nurse, he’s an ex-marine biologist, brought together on a terrible day that Charlie flashes back to throughout the film. Both are sun-kissed and gorgeous, with Charlie bearing such a distracting resemblance to Matthew McConaughey I was finally compelled to look up how to spell his name so I could tell you. Just as the bank is getting itchy feet about funding their business, they’re booked by a wealthy couple, Joji (Tim Kano) and Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi), supposedly for a day out — though in reality Michelle has an unusual family connection that has brought her here.
With Benny (Te Kohe Tuhaka) coming along as picnic cook, the five of them head off to Hell’s Reef, though their perfect day is doomed when they find the half-eaten influencer on the shore. Despite missing both legs he’s somehow kept hold of his phone (I hope that was a witty dig at travel ‘gram culture), containing that recent selfie of him with his girlfriend.
After reporting the body to the coastguard Charlie decides that they need to go looking for the couple’s boat, in case she’s still alive. Why they don’t leave it to the coastguard, with their equipment and extra fuel, god knows. Joji doesn’t want them to, but he’s outvoted, so off they go, only for their seaplane to be sunk by the shark when they land on the water. They all decamp to the plane’s life-raft, and there they stay, arguing, intermittently menaced by the shark, drifting with the current to, they hope, land. But this evil man-eating shark is out to get them, perhaps in response to decades of movies misrepresenting them as evil man-eaters.
The arguments as the ever-decreasing survivors drift along don’t have the black humour of lost-at-sea horror comedy Harpoon, and overall the characterisation is clumsy: as Joji and Michelle arrive for their day picnicking on the reef she exchanges glances with Benny, which angers her husband. I was convinced there must be a backstory preparing to unfold about a previous relationship but no. Joji’s jealousy is always ready to trip, but we never find out why. Maybe, along with that comment about climate change, it’s a half-hearted attempt to make us question who is the real monster here — people in general, and Joji in this particular set up. Pointless arguments erupt, risking lives as they brawl and shout.
In terms of who survives, you’ll soon work out one who makes it to the end, as there are some lines that cannot be crossed.
The cast aren’t bad so much, as unable at times to paper over the cracks in the clumsy script. It’s irritating listening to characters starting fights for no reason or mouthing platitudes when someone gets eaten.
The fin-in-water and outline shark shots are simple but work quite well in their accidental sparseness; this is quite a sparse (though beautiful) film with a basic storyline and a small cast. There are a handful of close-up great white moments, the gaping mouth and rows of teeth, which work better the briefer they are.
Generally the underwater scenes are both stunning and otherworldly, a cavernous and beautiful watery domain where, despite its enticements, we shouldn’t venture. Above the surface, Kaz and Charlie’s world is mostly drenched in a golden glow. An early visit to their small home, a mix of the blues and greens and golden shades that are later used so effectively, sets the scene; even if the misty sex through an aquarium lens looks a bit 1980s mini series. Give me more furnishings instead!
GREAT WHITE is available In US cinemas, on demand and on digital on 16 July 2021. In the UK it’s available now on digital and on DVD.
Watch the trailer below: