Ever since Steven Spielberg made that little shark movie in 1975 – Jaws, you might’ve heard of it – the imitation game has been strong in trying to replicate or reimagine such a narrative. The shark sub-genre of such creature features shows no sign of slowing down though, with Great White doing its best to inject as much grounded realism as possible within the man vs. animal framing.
After an opening sequence that, rather stereotypically, wipes out two nameless characters to set up the dangers of the deep, Great White lays its foundation as a more person-driven effort with Charlie (Aaron Jakubenko) and Kaz (Katrina Bowden) earning our focus. As the proprietors of a seaplane-charting business they’re rather ecstatic with the arrival of their latest clients, high-powered couple Joji (Tim Kano) and Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi), who have hired them to be whisked away to a secluded island for a spot of relaxation.
We’re unsurprised when said island is the local swimming ground for a slew of hungry sharks – the group find the remains of a shark attack victim initially – and when their attempt to leave is unfortunately stifled, they’re left marooned in the middle of the ocean. It isn’t the most original set up, but due to the fact that director Martin Wilson and screenwriter Michael Boughen are aware of their budgetary restraints and the fact that the genre can so often become a cycle of predictability, Great White succeeds at projecting a sense of tension and fear. The sharks are so often left unseen which only adds a further layer of unease as Charlie, Kaz, Joji, Michelle, and Benny (Te Kohe Tuhaka), Charlie and Kaz’s chef, sit idly in a vessel that can’t help feel anything but safe.
Though the film indulges in the expected delights of a shark attack feature, the creatures themselves never feel like the true threat, with the script wisely tapping into the dynamics of each character, with their actions towards each other often worse than what a shark could do; that being said, the action-filled finale certainly has its fun with the death-defying attempts a shark will go to in order to chomp off the remaining survivors. Joji is so easily painted as the film’s villain – and he has every right to be named as such – but he also makes a lot of sense throughout and it’s a testament to Boughen’s script that he’s painted in such shades of grey as he’s easily the most relatable character, even if he has “villainous” tendencies.
Whilst perhaps not as bombastically entertaining as Deep Blue Sea or The Shallows, Great White is still an effective thriller on its own accord. It has fun playing with the defying laws of logic on occasion, but never enough to dismiss its overall substance as a survivalist effort that works with its limitations.
Great White will be available to buy on all major digital platforms from June 30th, 2021. It will be available to rent or buy on DVD, Blu-ray and digital from July 7th.