Written by: Jake Kiernan
Directed by: Misty Talley
Starring: Reid Miller, Courtney Lauren Cummings, Jim Klock
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“Ho-ho-ho, you son of a fish."
There are few constants in this crazy world, but I can think of two summertime traditions that seem likely to be with us until the heat death of the universe: the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas in July deluge of holiday-trimmed rom-coms and SyFy’s flood of terrible shark movies. After producing years of ungodly, ridiculous mash-ups, it was only a matter of time until the latter decided to smash these two trends together with Santa Jaws, a title whose solid pun game at least inspires a mild chuckle right off the bat. That’s more than you can say about most of these things, at least. Get past that chuckle, though, and you’re met with the same sinking feeling that comes with all of these titles: “am I really going to sit here and watch something called Santa Jaws?” Well, we already know the answer to that, so maybe the more accurate question is “how much am I going to regret watching Santa Jaws?” I don’t know if maybe I’ve just become numb to these movies, but I can only shrug in response for this one: Santa Jaws doesn’t inspire regret so much as bemusement. Yes, there endless ways to better spend one’s time, but how can you say you’ve lived if you haven’t watched a movie where a killer shark dons a Santa hat on its fin?
We open on a bizarre Christmas scene, with a grungy, psychotic Santa Claus terrorizing a poor girl until he’s thwarted by some dude. Fists and bad puns fly as the two do battle on a dock; “see you in jingle hell,” our hero shouts before dropkicking Santa right into the water, where he’s swiftly eaten by a shark. It says a lot about these SyFy shark movies that nothing about this really seems to be that odd: why wouldn’t something called Santa Jaws start with a completely baffling sequence? An awkward transition, however, reveals that this is all just the imagination of Cody (Reid Miller), a weird teenager who’s writing a comic book with his buddy. Titled Santa Jaws, it imagines a killer shark possessed by the spirit of the demented psycho Santa. At any rate, all the holiday cheer in the world can’t make Christmas Eve with his family bearable, and an argument with his parents leaves him grounded. His more understanding grandpa gets all the angst though, and gives him a pen bearing a mysterious German inscription. Not knowing any better—and still full of angst—Cody sketches Santa Jaws while wishing his family would just go away, unwittingly bringing his comic to life in the process.
Basically, Santa Jaws is Krampus with a killer shark but with much less talent and resources involved. And all of the CGI shark mayhem in the world can’t compensate for the stuff that really matters, like well-developed characters or a decent story. What’s that, you say? I probably shouldn’t expect any of that from something called Santa Jaws? You’re probably right, and, as always, that’s sort of the problem here. SyFy has designed these movies to deflect criticism with their titles alone, as any attempt to seriously criticize something titled Santa Jaws is akin to tilting at windows: it knows it’s bad because there’s almost zero chance this premise could be good. It looks you right in the eyes with its cheap production values, broad performances, and lackluster effects, and dares you to say something. You can’t hurt it because it already knows, though, and, sort of like a slacker high school student, you get excited when it does show a little bit of effort.
Because that is my actual job when I’m not wasting time watching bad shark movies, I will humor Santa Jaws by saying a few nice things about it. For one, it’s actually not the most annoying film of this sort. Where so many of these things feature purposely obnoxious characters that beg to be tossed into a giant shark’s mouth, this one only boasts a small handful, and even one of those (a “Snaptagram” model who speaks almost exclusively in social media clichés) becomes weirdly endearing because she keeps surviving. The main set of characters—Cody, his friends, and family—are mostly ok.
Cody himself proves to be a bit whiny—and sort of eerily resembles Edward Furlong at times—but you can almost buy the camaraderie between him, his friend, and a weirdo comic book shop owner. Likewise, Richie Montgomerie is pretty loveable as Cody’s grandfather, a sweet old man who does his best to help his awkward grandson work up some courage to be more sociable. An entire subplot develops between Cody and Jena (Courtney Lauren Cummings), a girl he has a crush on at school; it turns out she’s dealing with her own angst, and the two disaffected teens find a little bit of common ground in comic books and their quest to destroy a shark with the power of Christmas cheer.
Speaking of, Santa Jaws is downright restrained compared to its contemporaries: not only does the actual shark remain hidden, but the effects work is mostly passable with the exception of a few completely ridiculous outbursts. Director Misty Talley—a veteran of four SyFy sharksploitation productions—eventually has to lean into the silliness, but even I have to admit some of it’s pretty funny. Most notably, Cody’s attempt to impale the shark with giant candy cane shiv only results in the beast gaining a horn, which it can use to stab people. You know, writing that out only makes it seem dumber, but trust me: it’s kind of amusing, if only because it captures the film’s incredible mean streak. No matter how sweet or harmless these characters may appear, absolutely none of them is safe, as evidenced by the grandpa biting it first. I almost couldn’t believe how ruthless the film was, at least until I remembered the main character can alter reality with his magic pen. You do the math there.
Maybe that’s for the best: in a weird way, wiping out that mean streak results in a perfectly saccharine holiday movie tone. Much like its Hallmark brethren, Santa Jaws goes straight for the feels, as the kids say. Sure, it feeds over half a dozen people to a killer shark and assaults the audience with cringe-worthy Christmas puns at every turn, but the ultimate effect is the same: our protagonist embraces the true spirit of the holiday. Maybe it’s the oppressive July heat getting to me, but this nonsense activated the deep recesses of my brain that usually only gets excited about Christmas in November (yes, November). A scene where the grandfather proudly announcing that he’d made his annual batch of cinnamon buns practically had me daydreaming about my own Christmas morning feast. You don’t expect that kind of magic from something called Santa Jaws, but maybe we should. After all, it is the best movie ever made where Santa’s hat is like a shark fin.
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