A young woman and her friends enjoying a boat trip off Hawaii are attacked by a vicious Great White, that seems to be hunting for fun rather than to survive.
Shark movies are like buses. You wait ages, consoling yourself with giant crocodiles, reconstituted dinosaurs and blue hedgehogs, and then three come along in succession: last summer’s Great White, The Reef: Stalked, and now Maneater. Still if you are unfortunate enough to get eaten, at least it’ll put an end to that Hall & Oates earworm you’re currently humming.
I love a good shark film, and even a bad one, particularly at this time of year when stories of killer beasts patrolling the warm waters of various exotic tourist destinations are a great antidote to frenemies posting their idyllic far-flung getaways on social media, their perfect sprogs contrasting nicely with my own monosyllabic tweens (who literally grunted when I excitedly told them about the shark that bit a woman off Cornwall this summer).
Maneater is not a good film — with limited, repetitive shark footage and often lazy writing, referencing cleverer, less derivative movies — but there’s a good turn from Trace Adkins as hoary old sea dog Harlan, some brief but sharp characterisation (before the beautiful people get eaten), and an interesting schoolroom scene that goes into how little we actually know about Great Whites.
That lack of firm evidence should be a gift to filmmakers: they can turn these creatures into an easy mirror for our own worst character traits, and have a perfect opportunity to fill in the blanks, making them more dangerous, more interesting and more human; like Henry Wu plugging the gaps in dinosaur DNA to improve his theme park creations. (Though admittedly one thing movie sharks don’t need is “more teeth”.) Sadly though Maneater‘s writer-director Justin Lee goes for cliché over creativity nearly every time.
Jessie (Nicky Whelan), newly separated from her fiancé, is on holiday in Hawaii with friends Sunny (Porscha Coleman), Breanna (Kelly Lynn Reiter), Emma (Zoe Cipres), Ty (Alex Farnham) and Will (Shane West). They’re taking an overnight booze cruise run by Captain Wally (Ed Morrone), far more knowledgable than his joke persona would suggest, and his wife Beth (Kim DeLonghi), but a stay on a beautiful, deserted island ends in disaster: a giant killer shark finds them, dispatching victim after victim with determination, if not panache. Meanwhile sports fisherman Harlan (Adkins) is chugging out to sea aiming to kill the great white that ate half his daughter. It’s Harlan who realises this shark is not acting like sharks should, killing for fun rather than survival.
Like the killer in The Reef: Stalked this Great White is propelled by an almost human wickedness rather than hunger or instinct; though while The Reef‘s shark draws out the process as its victims hang in the water, frozen with fear, Maneater‘s maneater wastes no time in getting down to business. For most of its victims, death comes quickly. No one is stalked and played with here; just grabbed and torn apart, then tossed aside, the warm waters off Hawaii filling up with blood. One victim loses his head, another a leg, hauling himself lopsidedly up the beach.
Having seen the trailer, my original expectations of Maneater were that it would be a bad film improved by Nicky Whelan, who really lifted the otherwise-ropy Trauma Center. But while Whelan is ostensibly the lead here, Jessie is the least well-characterised, and anyway is not particularly interesting; when she finally has her moment, it feels thin and rushed. Meanwhile grizzled old Harlan may be hugely tropey but Adkins is an effective presence, channelling his character’s furious heartbreak into determination (mainly because he takes it all seriously).
There are references to other better movies (without getting too meta, shark films do seem to be eating themselves). There’s a Jaws-related gag that almost works because it’s delivered by Adkins, who knows how to play it straight in a ridiculous movie (make sure you pause to check out a joke in a framed newspaper article he has on his porch). And like Jurassic World‘s captive Mosasaurus, this beast is not averse to leaping out of the waves to snatch its dinner in mid air, in this case a young tombstoner leaping off a cliff.
Naturally, that classroom shark lecture sent me off on the trail of more research, by which I mean I read the Great White Shark Wikipedia page and a Guardian article on their rarely witnessed sex lives (“four-plus tonnes of apex predator is an extraordinarily delicate dance”). Part of the family of mackerel sharks (there’s your rehabilitation name right there, maneaters), any evidence that they’re actually the fluffy cockapoo of the shark world — they don’t actually like the taste of human flesh, we’re too bony so they bite and let us go, human deaths are from blood loss, not from being eaten, and when they do eat us it’s because they’ve mistaken us for seals — does sound like the predator doth protest too much.
As for Maneater‘s actual shark, its dark grey fin is truly enormous, a glistening slate quarter-circle looming high out of the water, ploughing towards its latest victim like a surfacing submarine. Sadly when it comes in for the kill it’s reduced to a vast gaping mouth and rows of teeth, over and over again. That’s all we really see, followed by blood pumping out into swirling seawater and twisting bodies, before it crunches them; apart from the novelty fin, it looks like the same shark footage is reused. The final showdown with this devil from the deep is rather workaday, even pedestrian. It’s odd after the previous 80 minutes of gleeful, if thin, toothy mayhem.
Maneater was released in cinemas and on digital download in the US on 26 August 2022.
Watch the Maneater trailer: