I Still Have Yet To Cheer When the Tank Goes Off: Our Review of ‘Great White’

Posted in Movies, Shudder, What's Streaming? by - November 10, 2021
I Still Have Yet To Cheer When the Tank Goes Off: Our Review of ‘Great White’

I miss the Letterboxd Shark account, which was one of the all-time great committed to bits. For the unaware, the Letterboxd Shark would rate every film without a shark at the lowest possible rating of 0.5/5 stars, simply because the film did not contain any sharks. Jaws meanwhile, was a certified 5/5 masterpiece, because it was a tragic drama about a shark destroyed by his own hubris.

Speaking of Jaws, I’ve never really been a fan of the certified masterpiece, which is undoubtedly amongst the most blasphemous things that I’ve ever said as an amateur film critic. The one time that I saw the film at a rep screening, my audience roared when the tank went off and the shark shot into the air; I didn’t, and I felt left out.

Thus, I think it’s fair to say that killer shark films have been a considerably mixed bag for me. Martin Wilson Great White isn’t really an exception to the rule, but I will give him credit for almost making me a believer. What ultimately does this one in are the same hurdles that befall most films of this ilk; namely, a difficulty maintaining a suspension of disbelief, and the usual trickiness associated with water-based cinematography.

What Great White does have going for it is character that you might actually care, well, two characters that you might actually care about. Katrina Bowden stars as Kaz, an American nurse who works alongside her boyfriend Charlie (Aaron Jakubenko) providing tourists with charter flights around the harbour. After Kaz reveals to Charlie that she’s pregnant, the pair agree that this impending flight will be their last, and that they’ll settle down, get married and move on to better things.

Obviously, things don’t go quite as planned. After circling the island, the group comes across a dead man, who was brutally slain in the film’s first scene alongside his girlfriend, and decide to track their yacht in case his girlfriend managed to live. Martin’s use of dramatic irony here falls short, because we are aware of the constraints of the genre. Mostly, this is all a ploy to eventually capsize the plan and strand our castaways in the ocean with multiple ravenous great whites.

Bowden, Lifetime and Space Channel’s answer to Florence Pugh pre-bowl cut, provides a strong performance. This is likely because this ain’t her first “don’t go in the water” rodeo. The former 30 Rock actress previously starred in Piranha 3DD, so it’s clear that she’s got practice looking shocked on the water. Some of the other performances are probably fine, but their characters feel a bit clichéd and underwritten. In particular, the obnoxious, wealthy businessman Joji (Tim Kano) is a character that feels completely superfluous. The second he’s mean to the hired hands that work with Kaz and Charlie is the second the audience knowns he won’t make it to the final reel.

That lack of tension helps to undermine Great White, which also struggles to maintain immersion due to the film’s lack of cinematographic stability. Say what you want about Jaws, but what’s probably the most impressive feat in the film, is the fact that the camera never goes out of focus. Great White manages to keep focus too, but only by frantically cutting during the shark attacks, which removes much of the tension.

Maybe, it’s just because I’m all too aware of the fact that shark attacks are rare, and probably fatal. I’m a very strong swimmer, a former competitive one in fact. I’m very aware of the dangers the water poses, and the fact that there are certain scenarios I just won’t be able to make it out of. A shark attack is one of those. So too is having to be underwater for what feels like a billion minutes, which definitely happens to the characters at one point in Great White. When the tank goes off, the audience might ultimately cheers. I still have yet to.

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Thomas Wishloff is currently an MA student at York University. He is new to the Toronto Film Scene, but has periodically written and podcasted for several now defunct ventures, and has probably commented on a forum with you at some point. The ex-Edmontonian has been known to enjoy a good board game, and claims to know the secret to the best popcorn in the world.
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