Something In The Water


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Something In The Water
"Something In The Water satisfies in unexpected ways."

There’s no shortage of films out there about groups of conventionally attractive twentysomethings, picturesque tropical holiday locations and killer sharks. Why watch yet another? Something In The Water doesn’t have any special gimmicks. The weather behaves itself, there are no dubious scientific experiments going on and everything has the usual number of heads. What it does differently is something very simple: it focuses on British people.

It’s surprising just how much this changes the character of the piece. For a start, they’re much less sheltered than the characters we’re used to. Secondly, they have a different kind of humour, and a different way of responding to adversity. Some of them already have experience of that. The film opens not with a shark attack but with a homophobic assault in a London Underground station – an assault which leaves Meg (Hiftu Quasem) with a permanent scar and PTSD, as well as ending her relationship. This immediately positions the coming shark attack as a potentially cathartic moment, but also takes away the agency of the sharks. They are not characters, as is the case in many films, but manifestations of a hostile world in which survival is always a concern, in or out of the water.

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The reason why the characters – five young women whose different actions suggest they probably met at university – find themselves in the tropics is because one of their number, Mancunian Lizzie (Lauren Lyle) is planning to get married there. They have a couple of days in which to have fun first, and they’ve all been looking forward to the reunion. Unfortunately for Meg, the happy atmosphere is immediately compromised, as she finds that her ex-girlfriend Kayla (Natalie Mitson) – the one she holds partially responsible for her injuries – is also present. Their friends think they need to talk it out. She’s not convinced.

Pretty soon, of course, she will have more to worry about. Lizzie has organised a boat trip so they can head out to some of the tiny islets scattered around the coast. The first disappointment is that the vessel is, well, a little smaller than some of them had hoped. All of their phones have to go in a bag, so that it can be a proper adventure. Lizzie lies to her fiancé about where they will be, to ensure that they won’t be interrupted. Viewers will know exactly where this is going.

“What do you think could have done that?” someone asks, after the first bite occurs.

“Well it wasn’t fucking Nemo, was it?”

The film isn’t played as a comedy but the women have a natural banter, and they use it, in part, as a means of coping with stress, trying to keep one another’s spirits up as their circumstances get worse and worse. Every shark film has a Jaws reference, of course, but where this film approaches that urtext is in its recognition that the threat from a shark creates a natural space for a tightly focused character drama. With the effects of the sun and dehydration adding to the pressure, the veneer of flighty fun soon vanishes, but deeper bonds of friendship lie underneath, and even the arguing and fighting that ensues is tinged by a mutual awareness that spiky words are not really intended, that it’s just an expression of panic. Although two of the main characters are quite thinly written, the other three all get room to develop, and the acting is good all round.

The upshot of all this is that Something In The Water satisfies in unexpected ways. It doesn’t have as much shark action as some viewers might like – the emphasis is more on building up a sense of threat and inevitability – but there are some scary moments. These mean more because it succeeds in creating characters who feel like real people, sympathetic and relatable. The nature of the threat is less important than the fact that we feel for them. The stress they are under strips away all the artifice which is maintained for social purposes at that age, all the performance of femininity constructed as much for other women as for men, and shows them simply as human beings confronted by their own mortality. Sometimes this sits a little uneasily alongside the more conventional aspects of the story, but all the same, it’s a much more interesting piece of work than anybody had the right to expect.

Reviewed on: 02 May 2024
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Five young women visiting the tropics for a wedding find themselves in deep water, with hungry sharks on the prowl.

Director: Hayley Easton Street

Writer: Cat Clarke

Starring: Hiftu Quasem, Lauren Lyle, Natalie Mitson, Nicole Rieko Setsuko, Ellouise Shakespeare-Hart

Year: 2024

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: US


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