Great White

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Great White
"Wilson's background is in commercials and he's well suited to a script which is all about narrative economy."

In the history of life on Earth, few large creatures have been anything like as successful as the shark. It's a predator so perfectly suited to its environment that it has barely changed in a million years. A healthy adult great white can weigh as much as a small car. It can swim at speeds of over 15mph and it's increasingly reckoned to be quite intelligent. This poses a problem for filmmakers wanting to tell stories which bring them into contact with humans. Generally speaking, there are two ways such a story can go. In the vast majority of encounters the shark doesn't care to pursue such a low quality food item and the human never even knows it was there. In the others, well, the human is exceedingly unlikely to get away unscathed.

Recognising this difficulty, there are two ways a filmmaker can go. One is into the realms of fantasy, whether that's the speculative playfulness of Deep Blue Sea or the outright absurdity of Sand Sharks. The other is Jaws-style realism. Here, director Martin Wilson opts for the latter. This limits his options a lot and means that viewers may struggle to take the film's ending seriously, but it's a refreshing change in a subgenre which has increasingly been playing it for laughs.

Copy picture

Wilson's background is in commercials and he's well suited to a script which is all about narrative economy. We open with a young couple enjoying a romantic break in one of the quieter beauty spots long the Australian coast. Genre fans will not hold out much hope for them, given the tradition of using such moments to show us what a shark can do, but Wilson takes the opportunity to show us what he can do, delivering a cleverly staged, sumptuously photographed sequence which has another trick up its sleeve. Far from being just another throwaway scene, this opening sets up the rest of the plot, providing the impetus for a course of action which will lead out principal human protagonists to disaster.

Chief amongst those protagonists is Charlie (Aaron Jakubenko), retired marine biologist and shark bite survivor, who runs a small seaplane service targeted at holidaymakers together with his girlfriend Kat (Katrina Bowden) and friend Benny (Te Kohe Tuhaka), a chef who specialises in romantic meals. Business has been slow so they're delighted when they get a commission for the full package from high flying business analyst Joji (Tim Kano) and his wife Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi). As it turns out, the trip is more about her than him, as she has a family connection to the area - and to sharks. He, meanwhile, seems determined to make everyone else's life miserable, but there's more to his character than you might expect. Is Michele a victim of abuse or is she looking after somebody whose vulnerability only she understands? Aside from the underdeveloped Benny, none of these characters is straightforward, which makes for an interesting set of confrontations and alliances when the plane goes down and they find themselves in trouble.

Some of the dialogue here is pretty terrible but the underlying script is much better. In a subgenre dominated by machismo, Charlie signals his competence through his role as a peacemaker. Kat, despite circumstances that would ordinarily make her the fragile one, becomes a protector. Joji is the most complicated, aware throughout that he's out of his depth, and Kano's performance challenges viewer expectations. Ultimately none of them is much of a match for the monster stalking them, and the film derives its drama from the differing ways in which they react to this.

Like Spielberg's epic, Great White is a film which takes its time to build. There are long, slow stretches in the middle which may frustrate some viewers, whilst others will spend them hiding behind the sofa. Wilson carries us through the times when his characters have nothing to do but wait with stunningly beautiful - if ominous - panoramic seascapes, both above and below the water. He finds no shortage of visual intrigue in what others might perceive as a very limited environment. It is worth watching this film on as large a screen as you can find.

Sadly this seems to be one of those works where every scrap of finance has gone into the shoot, with not enough left over for post-production. Some of the CGI is so rough that one rather hopes for a future fan hack as the technology available to amateurs improves. As a result, you will need to suspend disbelief during the action scenes towards the end, but if you can achieve this, the thrills to be had make that long wait worthwhile.

Great White is not plain sailing but it has a decent amount of depth and, in places, serious bite.

Reviewed on: 14 May 2021
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A fun filled flight to a remote atoll turns into a nightmare for five passengers when their seaplane is destroyed in a freak accident and they are trapped on a raft, 100 miles from shore with man-eating sharks lurking beneath the surface.

Director: Martin Wilson

Writer: Michael Boughen

Starring: Katrina Bowden, Te Kohe Tuhaka, Aaron Jakubenko, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Tatjana Marjanovic, Tim Kano, Jason Wilder

Year: 2021

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: Australia

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