Written by: James LaRosa
Directed by: Paul Shapiro
Starring: Shannon Lucio, Riley Smith, and Justin Baldoni
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
This year, Spring Break really bites!
If there’s one scene that deserves a shark attack (or twelve), it must be Spring Break, a uniquely American gathering of bros and ditzy party girls whose hedonism knows no bounds for one week every year. Before Harmony Korine crystalized it in the most unflattering possible way earlier this year in Spring Breakers, cinema has been infatuated with it for decades and has often romanticized it with a formula that insisted that kids will just be kids; besides, if these films are to be believed, they aren’t all bad: there’s always one good girl and one sweet guy to be found among the unwashed throng of beer-bonging, pot-smoking masses. Spring Break Shark Attack follows this formula to a T, only it also throws in a bunch of tiger sharks to devour all the unsavory assholes (usually, the bad guys in these things just lose a boat race or their girlfriend or something).
But before we get to that, we get a tried-and-true horror staple: the unconnected prologue, where a trio of girls are inexplicably in the middle of the ocean on an inflatable raft before they’re dragged beneath the water and eaten. Nobody seems to miss them nor mourn their demise, as they’re never mentioned again; instead, the film switches over to introduce protagonist Danielle Harrison (Shannon Lucio), a goody two-shoes type that went to a local school while her friends went off to more party-inclined institutions. Her uptight dad expects her to spend Spring Break in Colorado, but she has other plans: hightailing it to Florida with or without her parents’ permission. She and her friends won’t be the only visitors to the sunny coast, though—in addition to the usual co-ed dumbshits, a pack of sharks has descended upon a new man-made reef.
But before that happens, Spring Break Shark Attack proceeds like any other Spring Break movie, albeit one that’s forced to capture debauchery through a TV-14 lens (the film premiered on CBS, which should engender some “at least it’s not SyFy” hope). Danielle has to navigate the treacherous waters of Girls Gone Wild wannabes and their parties; as usual, there’s one diamond among the rough in Shane Jones (Riley Smith) a local boy working double shifts to hopefully put himself through college. He helps to run a boat rental joint with his mom, who’s always flirting with the owner of a dive across the way (Bryan Brown doing a total Hoagie from Jaws 4 impersonation), so he’s right in the middle of all the action. For the first hour, the film is concerned with Shane’s growing rivalry with J.T. (Justin Baldoni), one of the spring breakers who’s set Danielle in his sights.
In fact, Spring Break Shark Attack is concerned with a whole different class of predator at first: the creepy, entitled date-rapist bro, which is unfortunately way less rare than the finned variety waiting off the coast. That’s right—the usual battle for this girl’s affection goes to a seriously dark place when J.T. slips Danielle some roofies and tries to take advantage of her when she blacks out at a party. The resulting drama spills over into the next day, when Danielle isn’t sure which guy was responsible, and it’s oddly compelling in a trashy, soap opera sort of way. It gets even more melodramatic when J.T. charters a boat for the girls and enlists Shane to captain it, just like a true shit-kicking heel. Remarkably (or perhaps expectedly), not a whole lot has happened up until this point—weren’t there supposed to be sharks involved? Aside from the prologue, the billed predators have only shown up for a couple of attacks—one involves a random, unknown girl, while the other victimizes one of the gal pal’s cheating boyfriend (the girl discovers the infidelity by stumbling upon his camcorder and…well, who the hell cares, really?).
Yet another subplot (seriously, how does something called Spring Break Shark Attack feature this much plot?) finds Danielle’s brother doing aquatic research and intoning about the man-made reef’s dangerous impact on the ecosystem. He winds up being right, of course, as the film bails itself out when it finally becomes a killer shark flick. Maybe it’s because the bar has been plunged into the depths during the eight years since its release, but Spring Break Shark Attack is shockingly serviceable in this mode. For the most part, the sharks are gloriously practical, and the film even features some impressive gore effects, particularly during the big climax, which serves as the blueprint for Aja’s Piranha, as it serves a whole mess of pretty, half-naked co-eds up as a smorgasbord for a giant pack of sharks. The violence, which includes severed heads and blood geysers, is perhaps more graphic than you might imagine given its made-for-TV roots, but it’s also difficult to argue that it doesn’t seem incredibly quaint compared to Aja’s incredible orchestrated carnage from a few years ago.
Spring Break Shark Attack also features a decent suspense sequence or two as well; while everyone around them barely functions as actual characters, Danielle and Shane at least make for a nice couple that get tossed into some perilous situations. Both Lucio and Smith play it straight despite the film spiraling way out of control as it hurdles towards its conclusion. In an effort to keep up with the over-the-top visceral carnage, the story becomes similarly wild and conspiratorial when it reveals that the tiger sharks haven’t descended on to these shores at random. Even though it takes a while to get there, Spring Break Shark Attack becomes exactly what you expect: a ludicrous nature-run-amok movie with dopey characters and dialogue (after being stranded on an island surrounded by sharks, Danielle’s friends are bummed about losing their fake IDs but exult in the beer still being cold).
Weirdly enough, Spring Break Shark Attack speaks to just how far this genre has managed to plummet. I vaguely recall watching its premiere on CBS back in 2005, at which point I likely dismissed it as another crummy killer shark movie. Revisiting it actually has me wishing that studios could churn out something as decent as this; where the likes of The Asylum and Syfy trade in jokey, ironic pitch meetings that lurch their way to TV screens, Spring Break Shark Attack bothers to try and be an actual movie rather than a brain-dead exercise in insincere camp. Don’t get me wrong—it’s still ridiculous and pretty brain-dead, but I’ll take it over the sort of movies that expect us to excuse their laziness on the pretense of intentional badness. When compared to what followed, Spring Break Shark Attack is pretty refreshing, even if it is just one of the few big fish in the shallowest pond imaginable. Rent it!
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