What to Watch Verdict
'Great White' takes all the staples of shark cinema and does nothing with them, especially when it comes to its rather unsightly titular beast.
🦈 Katrina Bowden gets a pass.
🦈 A few cool flare shots.
🦈 Those shark animations look rough.
🦈 A bland usage of shark cinema staples.
🦈 Forced drama does no narrative any good.
From the executive producers of 47 Meters Down comes Great White, which fails to replicate one of the most pulse-pounding aquatic thrillers since its release—Great White is not 47 Meters Down. I judge my shark movies based on the first impressions from finned menaces, and Martin Wilson's beast from beneath does not impress upon its first surface glimpse. Maybe that's unfair because stunning examples like 47 Meters Down or The Shallows boast the budgets to affordably and exceptionally simulate computerized underwater predators. I'm all for the renegade attitude of making your movie at all costs, except when it comes to shark cinema—if your shark isn't an alpha, you're already at a staggering disadvantage.
It all starts with Pearl Air cofounders Kaz (Katrina Bowden) and Charlie (Aaron Jakubenko), two lovers with an underperforming business that charters exotic trip packages. A rare opportunity arises when Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi) and Joji (Tim Kano) book Pearl Air's services for a sentimental island getaway. Unfortunately, their destination isn't a slice of sunshine—chef Benny (Te Kohe Tuhaka) stumbles upon a dead shark attack victim. Worse off, there could be another companion still alive. Charlie makes the call to search for the possible survivor, but that only endangers his crew when a great white shark sinks their pontoon aircraft—left alone, floating, praying for evacuation.
There's nothing that separates Great White from The Reef, Open Water; the list goes twenty leagues deep. Michael Boughen's screenplay attempts to propel a bit of emotional current when Michelle reveals her relative's cremated ashes—honoring a request to spread said remnants—but it's surface value. When the narrative becomes about escape, characters are reliant on their ruthless, most senseless qualities. Joji is motivated by his partner's looks towards Benny, leading to an entirely boneheaded result. Great White is a dramatic thriller first, aquatic horror trial second—and it's not very competent in either regard.
Katrina Bowden and Kimie Tsukakoshi try their damndest to make the mundane memorable even at the script's most melodramatic and, frankly, manipulative beats. An early lovemaking tease between Kaz and Charlie hammers home the cloyingly softcore nature of their Hallmark relationship, and the film never shifts gears even when titular feeders explode from the water in a splash of chaos. Milestones are forcibly frustrating and avoidable from tired paddlers dropping tools into the ocean or, again, Joji's selfishness like an excruciating frequency you can't block from your ear canals. Bowden and Tsukakoshi fight for their lives and pull us into the most threatening standoffs—and then the script does something moronic like pretending them kissing underwater is an act of submerged CPR (dumber as it sounds). Not sure Great White passes any water safety protocols?
It all becomes so disappointingly repetitive. Tony O'Loughlan's cinematography zooms over a landscape shot of wavy ripples crashing into an endless oceanic purgatory. Rafters bicker and dart untrusting eyes. The pitifully pixelated shark "surprises" everyone into tumbling off their floater, or barnacle-crusted debris, or wherever they're currently squatting above sea level. There's a scramble back to said safety, and then the camera pans back out once again to show a sharky shadow blot. Over and over the cycle repeats until the buffet options dwindle, swimming away from dangerous killers that look better in Tomb Raider games on the original Playstation except when National Geographic b-roll is optioned wherever possible.
Great White exemplifies many of the shortfalls of independent aquatic horror cinema. Martin Wilson's presumably doing the best with what he can. Still, in that same regard, I think of Larry Fessenden's Beneath as a prime example of making the movie you desire while respecting your production limitations. Great White is too uninteresting in its death-driven romanticism, sloppy in its action execution, and shackled to these silly shark movie rules that become dirtier smudges without anything fierce enough elsewhere. Even the film's third act filled with stabbing, flare guns, and a sunken death trap is such an unattractive flurry of digital effects that's so obviously in production studio tanks. It's a paint-by-numbers attempt that phones in what matters most, sinking before it ever has a chance to swim.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.
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