Every shark movie made since 1975 exists in the shadow of “Jaws.”
It may explain the crush of cartoonishly bad shark thrillers over the past 20 years. If you can’t lap Steven Spielberg’s vision, why try? Some still do, though, like the creative team behind “The Black Demon.”
The Josh Lucas thriller deserves some credit. Not only is the setting fresh, the screenplay suggests killer sharks are less evil than corporate drones. That’s a familiar theme of many zombie films but less common on the shark front.
Sadly, neither twist elevates “The Black Demon” beyond a streaming time waster at best.
Lucas stars as Paul, a safety inspector for Nixon Oil (subtle!) who takes his family to Mexico to visit an off-shore oil rig. Something seems off from the start. The Mexican locales, once thriving and warm, are now abandoned.
Paul’s family isn’t happy about this state of affairs, but they dutifully support their hard-working patriarch.
The trouble begins when Paul discovers the oil rig is all but abandoned. It seems a massive shark got their first, and the rig’s skeleton crew fear they’re on its menu next.
“The Black Demon” takes care to develop Paul’s family structure, including his loyal but inquisitive wife (Fernanda Urrejola). Their early scenes prove unrehearsed and real, giving the story a welcome dash of realism.
Hey, maybe you don’t need “Sharknado” theatrics to make us care about shark movies again!
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We soon get an extended lecture, with all the subtlety of a Colbert monologue, about evil, uncaring oil corporations. It’s hardly fresh for most genres, but shark movies haven’t plumbed this depth before.
The bigger issue is clear. The stories in question don’t build to any real momentum. We sense where the narrative is heading, so we can suss out the survivors and fish food with ease.
Paul’s arrogance is balanced by his protective instincts toward his family, the film’s most compelling element. What a shame the screenplay has little to say beyond that, and some of the subsequent battles between the surviving players prove “Sharknado”-esque in their silliness.
And that’s far from the tone attempted here.
The Black Demon – a giant killer shark movie with Josh Lucas by the director of Get The Gringo (aka How I Spent My Summer Vacation)?
You just know that got my attention! Director Adrian Grünberg is joining me on the next episode of the @moviesinfocus podcast. Coming soon. pic.twitter.com/z1ZbQxp74U
— Movies In Focus (@moviesinfocus) April 20, 2023
The shark itself is pure CGI and not given enough screen time, or framing, to make it a worthy villain despite its ties to Mexican folklore. That leaves an increasingly tactless Paul to keep our attention, and that gamble doesn’t pay off.
“The Black Demon” makes one unforgivable error late in the film. A character prepares for a dip in the shark-infested waters, but he struggles while preparing his scuba mask.
“Ain’t got no spit,” the character says, a reference to Richard Dreyfuss’ classic line from “Jaws.”
It’s a perfect Easter egg drop for modern audiences, and a reminder that “The Black Demon” can’t measure up to 1999’s “Deep Blue Sea,” let alone the mother of all shark thrillers.
HiT or Miss: “The Black Demon” blends blunt, anti-Big Oil messaging with perfunctory shark thrills, and neither proves satisfying.