Summer is almost here and, as movie theatres start re-opening, what better way to kick off the season than a killer shark movie. Though it’s not scheduled for a US release until mid-July, Australian survival horror Great White has surfaced in other markets. And Australians should know something about big sharks. In addition to some admittedly cool promotional posters, Great White boasts a promising premise. It’s story of charter plane crash survivors stranded on a lifeboat with a Great White shark circling mixes vintage Alfred Hitchcock (Lifeboat) with Jaws. Several years ago The Shallows pulled off minimalist killer shark scares. With few reviews circulating, can Great White take a bite out of the early summer movie season?
Former marine biologist Charlie Brody and his pregnant girlfriend, Kaz Fellows, operate a charter seaplane business along the Australian coast. But when Joji Minase books a charter to Hell’s Reef so his wife, Michelle, can spread her grandfather’s ashes things quickly go awry. Along the beach, the group discovers the body of a shark victim. And when the dead man’s phone shows a yacht with a girlfriend aboard, Charlie decides to take the seaplane up to search for her. A great white shark attack, however, sinks their plane and leaves the survivors floating in the ocean on a small rubber life raft with a hungry shark still circling them.
Great White’s Sluggish Pacing Sinks It Faster Than The Title Shark
As movie theatres slowly re-open across the United States, studios have slowly started offering up their bigger releases. But it’s still hard to tell what VOD movies might have seen the inside of a theatre and which ones were always going to be “straight-to-video”. Perhaps Great White’s best indicator are the pretty low-frill shark effects. To be fair, director Martin Wilson mostly avoids overexposing his titular predator. When the killer shark is teased with a fin or revealed in quick flashes, the effects hold up. But a couple of scenes veer Great White into Sharknado territory. When Wilson puts his shark front row and center in an attack on the charter plane the results are cringeworthy. Nonetheless, Great White’s VFX aren’t the movie’s biggest problem. The Reef, The Shallows, and Open Water all created white-knuckle tension with minimalist premises and varying sizes of budget.
With its five characters trapped on a small life raft one would think the tension would be palpable.
In contrast, Great White rarely generates much in the way of tension. And it definitely feels like a missed opportunity. With its five characters trapped on a small life raft, one would think the tension would be palpable. Yet Wilson focuses the camera on moments where nothing really happens for stretches of time that go on far too long. Occasionally, Great White remembers that the vast depths of the ocean can be pretty scary. One scene where Kaz inches her way through dark water to retrieve a paddle evokes the exact suspense that should characterize the entire movie. And then Wilson lets things lapse into cruise control. He doesn’t seem to know how to set up suspenseful moments resulting in scenes that are boring and awkward. It’s a pacing problem that sinks Great White faster than its shark.
Great White is Bloated with Cliched Characters and Head-Scratching Decisions
Some critics may be tempted to single out Great White’s cast, which admittedly is pretty middle-of-the-road. Neither Katrina Bowden nor Aaron Jakubenko, as onscreen couple Kaz and Charlie, set the screen on fire. There’s not much in the way of chemistry between the actors, but they’re suitably convincing in their respective roles. As for the remaining cast, Tim Kano, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Te Kohe Tuhaka come off a little stiff. But Michael Boughen’s screenplay doesn’t give any of the performers much to sink their teeth into. None of the characters is given much more than relatively cliched arcs that make it easy to peg who dies and in what order. Moreover, Boughen’s screenplay hints at things that are underdeveloped leading to some awkward moments in the story.
This is the kind of story that needs characters to make bad decision to move things forward.
However, Great White’s most frustrating feature is that it’s story relies heavily on characters doing stupid things. This is the kind of story that needs characters to make bad decisions to move things forward. Why would a charter plane service risk paying clients’ lives to look for a missing yacht when they already know a great white shark is hunting in that area? It’s a terminally head-scratching choice that’s exacerbated minutes later when Charlie radios for help after the first shark attack. Of course, the answer is simple – we wouldn’t have a movie otherwise. Other questions also linger. Why is Te Kohe Tuhaka’s ‘Benny’, a cook, even on the plane? Again, it’s a short answer – likely to up the movie’s meagre body count.
Great White Can’t Deliver On What It Promises
Despite some decent promotional material and what should have been an effectively simple premise, Great White can’t deliver on what it promises. And some underwhelming shark effects are the least of its problems. Rather Great White can’t muster up the suspense and tension to takes its ‘Lifeboat Meets Jaws’ concept work. Inexplicably long scenes where nothing happens kill any momentum. Thinly-written characters that barely rise above clichés also undermine much audience investment. So Great White does deliver is a serviceable but wholly unremarkable killer shark movie.