Director: Griff Furst, Nathan Furst
Writer: Griff Furst
Producer: Griff Furst, Isaiah LaBorde
Stars: Tony Amendola, Bobby Campo, Rachele Brooke Smith, Lulu Jovovich, Caroline Cole, Nick McCallum, Thomas Ian Nicholas
An experimental drug trial forces six sufferers of recurring nightmares to face a mythological shark that exists in dreams.
It’s astonishing that killer shark thrillers are even a thing since not only does the subgenre’s average quality level barely scratch mediocrity, the majority of those movies are plain dreadful. Of course, the finger of fault can be pointed at the initial popularity of “Sharknado” for inspiring the wipeout wave of mega-monster flicks regularly flooding Syfy’s programming.
Really though, we have ourselves to blame for the fact that the copycat tsunami hasn’t yet subsided. Audiences still lap up this claptrap without necessarily noticing that the joke is now on them. With ironic laughter permitting lowered standards, lazy filmmakers too easily take advantage by exchanging campiness for carelessness to smash and grab fleeting notoriety. Until viewers stop tuning in for disappointment, there’ll be no end to the sham strategy of throwing sh*t at a wall hoping another lucky pop-cult phenomenon sticks by happenstance.
Is “Nightmare Shark” the next “Sharknado?” Let’s hope not, because Syfy doesn’t need five more of these. They could safely do without this one too.
“Nightmare Shark” positions itself as the “Nightmare on Elm Street” of killer shark movies, but it’s not even the “Bad Dreams” of killer shark movies. Its premise proffers a perfectly primed idea for a basic cable monster movie-of-the-week. But a slapdash screenplay and moths in the wallet make for a bland movie that’s too much of a somber slog to be fun.
I didn’t realize this beforehand, so I can confirm it won’t affect anything if you’re not in the know either, but “Nightmare Shark” doubles as a pseudo-sequel to both “Atomic Shark,” one of two 2016 movies with that title, and 2017’s “Trailer Park Shark.” Bobby Campo and Rachele Brooke Smith reprise their roles of Kaplan and Gina from the former while Lulu Jovovich and Thomas Ian Nicholas reappear as Jolene and Rob from the latter.
Having survived their respective shark encounters, the two couples look to deal with their newfound night terror trauma by enrolling in Dr. Reginald Novak’s experimental drug trial at a remote cabin. Accompanied by her boyfriend Enzo, Ava anchors the third pair participating in Novak’s program. Ever since an unknown saboteur sunk her family’s boat when she was a child, Ava has suffered from recurring nightmares involving her slaughtered parents, the mysterious man, and a seemingly supernatural shark. Remarkably, the other subjects think Ava’s ethereal shark is the same creature haunting their dreams too.
The titular terror only takes some of its inspiration from Freddy Kruger as it tortures sleeping victims on this retreat. The rest comes from Hawaiian shark god Kauhuhu, an actual mythic monster who, according to the movie’s take on its legend, seeks to rule reality by breaking through the nightmare plane.
As the only suspect in sight for the horrors plaguing Ava’s past and present, Dr. Novak naturally turns out to be orchestrating everything according to evil plans you can figure out without reading further or seeing the film. Novak sets himself up from his introduction as a stereotypical mad scientist obsessed with his life’s work. He is made more stereotypical by showcasing the sophisticated creep characteristics of sipping cabernet and listening to classical music while secretly watching his subjects on surveillance monitors.
Tony Amendola, a venerable ‘That Guy’ who always provides solid support, nevertheless makes the most out of the man by chewing on dry dialogue like it has the succulent juice of Kobe beef steak. It doesn’t go a long way, but it goes far enough to squeeze a reason to pay attention out of predictable plotting.
All of the actors actually give it all they’ve got, or at least as much as a movie like this affords them slim opportunities to engage. “Good” isn’t the adjective to describe the performances. But everyone commits wholeheartedly to the concept in spite of its outlandishness and that honest effort creates some captivating chemistry onscreen.
You’ll find it far harder to overlook all of the evidence left behind of a film content to cut every possible corner. Chintzy effects aren’t exclusive to the primitively animated CGI shark, although that’s a big problem too. Issues extend all the way to the basic technical tricks of harsh cuts or speeding up/slowing down footage to simulate dream settings simply. Few of the setups look creative. Many look lame.
Cheapness boomerangs back to the shark, which should be the centerpiece feature of a film titled “Nightmare Shark,” but instead serves as a sad reminder of the limited effort expended. Bizarrely, and for a reason I can only assume relates to low funds, the ghostly beast takes the form of a buzzing bee swarm more often than it appears as a shark. “Nightmare Shark” gets your eyeballs coming and going as the shark either looks awful when it does appear, or doesn’t show up in its scenes at all.
Shot selection frequently has little narrative logic behind it. In a dream sequence where Ava runs from an evil figure, the camera cuts to the entity mouthing mocking laughter, even though the dream takes place in Ava’s perspective and she can’t possibly see this person. Before chalking that up to “dream logic,” an earlier example starts with a close-up of Ava throwing a cup away, an entirely unimportant moment, before panning to follow conversational action. Why block sequences without motivated movements?
Also, I’m pretty sure I saw a shot of Enzo with a scar on his forehead well before he receives that injury. I’m only uncertain because I can’t determine how or why that would have happened. Perhaps the crew needed to grab a quick pickup shot for the earlier scene and, rather than do it right, they hoped his hair would cover the makeup?
Some briefly trippy moments come close to giving “Nightmare Shark” a few flashes of frightening flair. Yet when a movie this skimpy presents its premise in such a sincere fashion that it can’t follow up, the film gets felled by a tone that just doesn’t gel.
“Nightmare Shark” is to killer shark movies what Lunchables are to cuisine: simple sustenance with flat flavor mass-produced by an unthinking machine. It might make do in a pinch, but you’ll toss the tray in a trashcan and forget it soon after eating.
Review Score: 45