Swamp Shark (2011)

Syfy/Bullet Films.  Director: Griff Furst.

Creature Feature Bleachers Award: Most Sympathetic Characters

With most sharksploitation films, you quickly develop an intense feeling of resentment toward the characters.  As they prattle on in their annoying, grating voices, their foolish decisions and stupid faces eventually drive you insane.  You find yourself rooting for the sharks, even pleading with them.  “Please, kill them now, mutated/prehistoric/genetically-engineered shark!” you scream, “PLEASE!”  Not so with “Swamp Shark.”  This film actually has great characters,  including a couple of lovable underdogs, a detestable villain, and a sleazy pretty-boy.  I found myself caring about the characters, so much so that I wanted most of them to survive.  The amount of gore in the film is about average, though there is a gross throat wound (maybe I’m just extra-sensitive because I use my throat on a daily basis).  Since the film takes place in the swamp instead of on the beach, there are fewer bikinis than usual, although we get some safe-for-TV scenes of attempted sex in such romantic locations as a rowboat and the dock.  The storyline is nothing special, but overall…dare I say it?…”Swamp Shark” is almost a genuinely good movie.

The posters for “Swamp Shark” don’t draw on “Jaws” imagery, nor does the plot rely too heavily on The Mother of All Shark Films.  In the opening scene, Sheriff Watson (Robert Davi) breaks up the drunken teenage party from the beginning of “Jaws.”  We get a fresh plot point, however, when the sheriff promptly takes part in some shady animal smuggling involving a gigantic shark.  This might shock you, but the shark escapes into the swamp!  When it eats a local drunk guy and several captive gators at a gator-themed restaurant—aptly named The Gator Shed—the owners and staff decide to hunt it down.  Along the way, they receive some help from a surprise ally…

The DVD Cover

“Swamp Shark” actually has some decent romances in it.  You know from the start that the relationship between restaurant owner Rachel Bouchard (Kristy Swanson) and pretty-boy waiter Tyler (Richard Tanne) isn’t going to work out.  It might have something to do with the fact that at the time of filming, Swanson was 41 and Tanne was only 26.  (To give you some perspective, Swanson played “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in the 1992 movie.)  Fortunately Rachel makes the jump from unfaithful Tyler to jowly, 50 year-old Tommy Breysler (D.B. Sweeney), some guy who hangs around her restaurant all day drinking coffee.

Even better is the romance between Rachel’s younger sister Krystal (Sophie Sinise) and chubby waiter Martin (Jason Rogel).  It’s rare to see emotional vulnerability in a sharksploitation film, and “Swamp Shark” handles it beautifully.  Martin is completely resigned to the fact that Krystal will never see him as anything more than a friend, while Krystal’s desire for peer acceptance leads her to sneak out and join a couple of drunken jerks on their party boat.  Surprisingly, the film refuses to treat even the drunken party boys one-dimensionally.  One of them is a remorseless loser, but when things get out of hand, the other acts the way any decent, normal person might.  Every once in a while it’s nice to watch a character act fairly and altruistically in a way that doesn’t feel forced.

But of course, as a shark movie, there must be some inconsistencies.  Despite the danger posed by the shark, Sheriff Watson refuses to cancel Gator Fest, “the one thing that still brings money to this town.”  Okay, a plot point stolen from “Jaws,” but still relatively plausible in the context of the recent oil spill and economic recession.  Until you see the fest, that is.

Uhhh

Is anyone else wondering how three visitors are supposed to save the economy of the town?  Three?!?  They must be charging like a million dollars apiece for a game of bean bag toss!  Gator Fest is even more of a disaster than the Sandman Festival from “Sand Sharks,” and that’s saying something!

I have to admit, though, I’m not being completely honest with you.  I exaggerated the lameness of Gator Fest by using a screenshot that only shows a portion of the attendees.

There, THAT’S everybody.

Yep, everybody.  As far as I can tell, there are about 16 people at Gator Fest this year, including the carneys.  The best part is that when Sheriff Watson asks one of the deputies how things are going, he replies, “The usual.  Some drunks, some parking tickets, a couple of pickpockets.”  So the crowd is not only very small, it is also apparently composed of lawless scum.

What I’m slowly coming to realize is that PEOPLE WHO MAKE SHARK MOVIES HAVE NO FRIENDS.  Think about it.  Let’s say you needed to come up with several people to be extras in a movie.  You’d go to your friends and tell them that it won’t take long, that they’ll get to be in a movie, and that you really need the help because it’s for your job.  Given two weeks, you could probably round up at least ten people, right?  Well dozens of people worked on this film and the best they could manage between them was 16!

Despite this sad reality, I highly recommend “Swamp Shark.”  The characters are very watchable—a fact that, for once, has nothing to do with bikinis.  The film also has a great soundtrack, but since I’m the sort of person who likes zydeco music, you shouldn’t necessarily take my word for it.  All in all, I doubt you could watch this film and not enjoy it.

This trailer really fails to capture the essence of the film, but watch it if you want to:

“Swamp Shark” is available for purchase on Amazon.

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