Written by: Griff Furst
Directed by: Griff Furst, Nathan Furst
Starring: Tony Amendola, Bobby Campo, and Rachele Brooke Smith
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Your darkest fears will run deep.
We have plenty of shark movies that take inspiration from (read: rip off) Jaws. I dare say we have more than enough of those and probably have for years at this point. Just being able to get through a review of any shark movie without mentioning Spielbergís classic is more rare than finding a shark movie thatís actually worth a shit. But you know what we donít have nearly enough of? Shark movies that take a cue from A Nightmare on Elm Street. Itís a void I didnít even know existed until Nightmare Shark appeared on the shelf at a local Wal-Mart like an act of destiny that can only be sealed by a $3.74 price tag. Nightmare Shark and I were meant to cross paths, our fates intertwined the minute the Brothers Furst decided to mash together Wes Cravenís seminal slasher with an otherworldly great white shark. Usually, itís exciting when a movie feels like it was made just for you, but I could pretty much feel a damn monkeyís paw skeletal finger curling as I plucked it from the shelf. Because even though this one isnít the umpteenth riff on Jaws, itís no less predictable for anyone whoís been wading in the increasingly deep (yet so, so shallow) SyFy shark pool.
The premise is all right there in the title: a group of people with no connection to each other all have the same recurring nightmare involving a monstrous shark. Their nightmares are interwoven with deep-seated traumatic episodes from their past that haunt them whenever they sleep. For example, Ava (Caroline Cole) has never recovered from seeing her family die in the ocean after a mysterious assailant sank their boat. Images of her blood-soaked family plague her dreams, sending her to finally seek refuge in Novak (Tony Amendola), a charismatic doctor who promises an unconventional cure when he summons Ava and her fellow trauma survivors to his compound. A combination of group therapy and experimental treatment goes haywire, though, when it turns out Novak has ulterior, sinister motives for bringing the group together.
Nightmare Shark speaks to the conundrum of these SyFy creature features. Unlike so much of this channelís fare, this one at least takes its premise as seriously as it possibly can. Thereís no wink-wink, nudge-nudge, ďcan you believe this shit?!Ē irony inviting viewers to make fun of its inherent absurdity. Itís appreciable, but Nightmare Shark is really no better off for it. I know it feels like an unfair Catch-22: whoever makes these things is damned if they treat it as a joke, and theyíre damned if they donít. The common denominator between both approaches is the utter lack of resources to pull off whatever absurd premise the filmmakers dream up. As always, the effects here (shark or otherwise) are unconvincing, and the entire film is awash in that dull, digital video pallor that just screams ďwell, we tried,Ē while a score drones on, wallpapering the proceedings with a generic din.
And, again, since the Furst brothers do at least try to take Nightmare Shark seriously, we can at least say they tried. Whether they tried hard enough is debatable. Even if you meet the movie halfway and acknowledge its obvious limitations, itís still disappointing to see the premise sold so woefully short. Nightmare Shark conjures up visions of a horrific beast dispatching its victims in creative fashion but delivers nothing of the sort. Most of the dreams involve folks walking around desolate landscapes (city streets, a desert) before the shark appears, bursts into locusts, and causes them to die from real world accidents. In a movie titled Nightmare Shark, characters die in the most mundane fashion, like a car accident. Itíd be like having Freddy Krueger at your disposal and having him kill someone with a steak knife. The filmís dream logic is similarly unremarkable, mostly accomplished with bizarre edits and jittery jump cuts to signal that something is just a little bit off about the situation. Obviously, you canít expect Nightmare Shark to summon up the elaborate dreamscapes of the later Elm Street sequels, but it would have been nice to see something akin to the more low-key, eerie approach Craven pioneered in the original. Atmosphere canít cost that much.
The only intrigue thatís left, then, is unraveling just what in the hell is going on and accounting for the groupís shared nightmare. Novak holds the key, and while itís cool to see the likes of Amendola pop up in one of these things, it ultimately ends up like every other time someone awesome pops up in one of these things: with the distinct feeling that they (and we) deserve better. Novakís plot at least takes the film to an interesting, mythological place that sneaks some clever twists into the backdoor. Considering most of the script for these things just involve their titular beast rampaging and killing assholes for 80 minutes, itís nice to see one with a little more consideration for storytelling beyond half-assed carnage full of terrible CGI. Speaking of which, it would appear that some of the survivors here are reprising their roles from previous SyFy ventures, including a visibly bored Thomas Ian Nicholas whose early death must have been a selling point for him. Considering how unambitious these movies generally are, itís a neat bit of connective tissue: I doubt anyone had ďSyFy Shark Cinematic UniverseĒ on their bingo card.
But even this speaks to the eternal frustration surrounding these movies. Generally speaking, they donít lack for ideas or imagination--itís just that theyíre unable to go much further than that, so weíre left with movies that feel like a joke whether theyíre meant to be or not. Nightmare Shark especially is a strange beast: I canít imagine thereís a big audience for these things that doesnít want to just have a good time mocking them with friends, so itís always odd to see such a serious take. Maybe it still is fit to be mocked and the serious approach is part of the joke: after all, can you even hear about a killer shark movie taking inspiration from A Nightmare on Elm Street without flashing at least a crooked little grin? Itís so ridiculous that you at least have to give it a glance, even if you know itís not going to end well. This is the cinematic equivalent of telling a kid not to touch a hot stove: you put something titled Nightmare Shark in front of me, Iím going to watch it. I canít complain about getting burned.
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