REVIEW: Great White (2021)

dir. Martin Wilson.

According to the posters, Great White – the latest in a seemingly endless stream of killer shark movies circling an audience enthralled to Jaws – comes from the talent behind The Reef and the 47 Meters series: and that brief sentence contains everything you need to know, encapsulating both the inspiration and malaise that engulfs the sub-genre. Spielberg’s seminal tentpole is one of the greatest films ever made – no doubt – but the wave of imitators (from schlocky Mega-Nados to slicker fare such as 2016’s The Shallows) have never been able to swim in even vaguely the same waters as the man-eater that inspired them. Even the best – the aforementioned The Reef / The Shallows being among them – are essentially set-pieces stretched to a feature-runtime. And the worst entries do the same, only poorly. What would once have been a thrilling 20 minute sequence now becomes the whole film, repeated ad nauseum, leaving the audience with a facsimile of a facsimile, longing to recapture some of that ol’ Amity Island magic.

So then to Wilson’s debut feature, which plot-wise is almost identical to any number of its progenitors: a seaplane takes tourists to a deserted Australian atoll where they discover the grizzly remains of the man mauled in the opening kill; they seek for survivors before being stranded themselves, adrift in an inflatable raft, dorsal fins closing in.

First, the good: the performances are above average for this kind of fare, Katrina Bowden and Aaron Jakubenko giving good chemistry as the couple organising the trip who’ve also just found out they’re expecting. There’s some delicate moments of intimacy to their scenes before the water turns red as well as hints at toxic power and family legacy amongst the tourists. These nuances suggest a better film, one which sadly soon disappears beneath the tide.

For it isn’t long before a CGI shark has bitten their seaplane and the group pile into a dingy, paddling 150k back to shore. Here the audience must settle in for repetitive shots of shadows circling the raft / reasons for characters to get in and out of the water / underwhelming kills / simmering group tensions etc. There’s just enough detail to keep things from sinking – the film looks beautiful, courtesy of DP Tony O’Loughlan – but nevertheless several final act moments illicit unintentional laughter in their plodding, predictable execution.

Back in ’75 three men in a boat changed cinema forever and made a generation afraid of the water, but nearly half a century later nobody has ever managed to replicate that same alchemy. Perhaps its unfair for the shadow of Spielberg to eclipse so many films, but for fans of the sub-genre – this reviewer included – there remains a pervading dissatisfaction that we just deserve more: more character, more plot, more frights and more emotion, not the chum-churned copies we’ve been served up so many times before.

Tim Coleman

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