Monday, February 5, 2018

Shark Week (USA, 2012)

Where to begin? With the fact that this is an Asylum movie? Or with the fact that it was directed by Christopher Ray, the same miscreant who foisted Mega Shark Vs Crocosaurus (USA, 2010) upon the world two years earlier? Both facts say a lot without even requiring further aural expression. It's obviously bad-film time. (How bad? Well, last month in our yearly "Best-of" roundup for 2017, MSvsC got special mention as the "Biggest Pile of Shite seen in 2017". This flick here is even worse.)
But as we all know, there are "good" "bad" films out there. They come in many forms. Some are big-budget accidents like Showgirls (1995 / trailer) or Gigli (2003 / trailer), others are low-budget intentional ones like the Sharknado series, while the best tend to simply the WTF products of people of surreally exceptional "talent" like that displayed by, perhaps most famously, Doris Wishman (1 June 1912 – 10 Aug 2002) and/or Ed Wood Jr (10 Oct 1924 – 10 Dec 1978), who manage to truly display an appreciable if inane auteur sensibility. (Less famously, someone like Renee Harmon [8 May 1927 – 26 Nov 2006], the "mover and shaker" of disasterpieces like Frozen Scream [1975].)
For that, however, there are tons of films that are actually simply bad: too boring to be much fun, so sloppy as to be annoying. The Asylum is famous for such movies, but every once in awhile they do actually do something "decent", and often enough their less-decent product at least has a few good ideas or visuals or something to make the time pass... were they only to finally embrace gratuitous nudity, the quality of their movies would surely increase notably. (One wonders, considering how much fun Z-Nation [trailer, 4th season] is, if they shouldn't concentrate more on TV series than movies.) What is truly rare, even for Asylum or Troma or Full Moon, is a bad film that is so truly bad, so shitty, that it makes every other movie seen before, every other corprophiliac movie that anyone has bothered to torturously sit through to the end — if only to tear apart on a movie blog ala here at A Wasted Life — suddenly seem like the scintillating product of true talent. 
Shark Week is such a movie. It has seriously made us realize that every movie that we have hated and dissed to date is a bright light of creativity and visual pleasure in comparison. Shark Week is less a movie than celluloid shit: 99 minutes of digitalized eye-searing cancer; a bloody car wreck of an accident that makes you seriously feel sorry for anyone involved; a vomitorium of mistakes that decries any justifiable existence. It is the celluloid equivalent of the Trump presidency: too fucked up to do justice in words. And much like Trump makes one embarrassed to be American, Shark Week makes you feel embarrassed for having even watched it.
Perhaps it was written with the intention of being funny. It isn't, but it is stupid. One hopes it wasn't written with the intention of being either suspenseful or mildly horrific or interesting, for there it fails three times over. One assumes it was written (and made) as a tax write-off, for there is little other justification for its existence. At best, Shark Week functions as a sleeping pill or as an example to present at film schools of how not to make a movie. But even calling it a movie is giving too much credit. It is nothing.
The "plot" is a badly constructed attempt at rehashing any number of movies from The Most Dangerous Game (1932 / trailer) to Saw (2004 / trailer): a rich and nefarious drug-cartel couple, Tiburon (Patrick Bergin) and Elena (Yancy Butler), kidnap a variety of people that are all somehow and precariously linked to the death of their son, bring them to an island, and over a week subject them to a series of traps involving sharks, with the survivor(s) promised freedom. And let the bodycount begin...
At 89 minutes in length, Shark Week is noticeably and way too long. It is literally an exercise in how to stretch every scene, every event, to as long as possible so as to pad the running time to a releasable length. Why show the group walking down a road for 3 seconds, for example, when, with some faux artsy-fartsy editing, you can stretch to a minute? Every non-action scene in the entire movie is edited not to streamline, but to make the movie longer, and here the movie succeeds painfully.
Then there is the CGI. Wow. What little exists is pretty amazing: amazingly horrendous, about what you might expect were a one-armed, high-school-dropout, stay-home alcoholic mom given a week of CGI-making lessons by mail and then handed a movie to do. (And then, just for good measure, they cut off her other arm first.) Luckily, any and all CGI scenes are mercifully short; regrettably, more than one is replayed a couple of times.
The acting. Here, the movie is oddly conflicted. Needless to say, the fodder across the board are terrible actors. One or two, one has the feeling, could possibly blossom elsewhere. Frankie Cullen, for example, who plays Frankie, is a Julián Róis-reminiscent hunk who could probably excel in porn. He just has that aura — and, indeed, a search of the web shows that he, as seen above, not from the movie, at least has the body as well (we were less successful in finding anything out about the equipment, but we have seen smaller packages). Likewise, the actress playing the junkie girl Layla (Valerie K. Garcia) may have failed at conveying junkieness, but she did at least emote halfway successfully. Of all the wooden-boards-with-legs strolling through the movie, she at least makes the biggest impression. The final girl, on the other hand, leaves such little impression that now, one day after having seen the movie, we no longer clearly remember what she did at the end — or, really, what she looked like.
Special mention must be given to the two baddies of the movie, Elena (Yancy Butler) and Tiburon (Patrick Bergin). They play two fucked-up evil people, strung out on drugs and/or brain-addled from alcohol. Well, it could be the makeup, it could be talent, but: they really come across as two fucked-up people, not as two actors playing fucked-up people. Sort of on the level of Tim Holt in HG Lewis' This Stuff'll Kill Ya (1971 / One More Swig of Moonshine), where Tim Holt wasn't supposed to play "fucked up" but he was such a heavy alcoholic that he simply exuded total "fucked-upness". The problem is, whenever Butler and Bergin suddenly act clearheaded, they're only a tick better than the rest of the cast. So we pray they are just exceptionally good at acting fucked-up, and not actually that bad off... though their participation in a project like this does indicate a certain level of desperation. (That said, Yancy Butler — fondly remembered as hot stuff back in Hard Target [1993 / trailer] — definitely has great gams.)
Within the genre of bad movies, there are some notable names that automatically come to mind, ranging from the perennial faves Ed Wood and Doris Wishman to the Italo cult names Bunno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso, from critics' punching bags like Uwe Boll to the sorely overlooked like Neil Breen, from the truly talented like Chang Che to even the reluctant filmmaker like Roberta Findlay. With all the names just listed, for all the shittiness of what they may have made or make, their films do at least usually display an interest in what they are doing, an actual desire to make a movie, or at least an auteur sensibility that is/was so outside the norm that their film work often becomes akin to, say, outsider art. They make real movies, if contentious ones shot through an "artistic" eye that they alone possess. That is why their movies are often so craptastic, and why for all the inability displayed the movies still project more of a reverence for film than a total disinterest or disrespect for the form they work in.
This cannot be said of Christopher Ray. His work comes closer to that of, say, Sam Newfield (6 Dec 1899 – 10 Nov 1964), a director now mostly forgotten despite having been one of the most prolific movie directors of all time. Newfield was a one-shot-only director whose excess output was fueled by a full-blown addiction to gambling: quality didn't matter shit to him, the fix did.
Shark Week, when considered together with other Chris Ray movies, leaves one to suspect that perhaps Ray Jr must have some similar "problem" requiring a quick and regular cash inflow. Like too many of his movies, Shark Week reveals itself as the product of someone who obviously doesn't give a flying fuck about movies and/or filmmaking. Someone who somehow slipped into a career in which they for some reason always get enough desperately needed financial remuneration no matter how shitty a product they deliver, so they simply continue the job despite obviously having no interest in it.
In Shark Week, like normal, Ray conveys no desire to achieve anything of even the slightest quality, no wish to explore any of the field's artistic or even technical possibilities, no drive to do anything other than deliver something so as to take home the paycheck. To clarify using examples of other fields: if Christopher Ray were a plastic surgeon instead of a director, you could be pretty sure all his clients would probably look like Pete Burns (5 Aug 1959 – 23 Oct 2016, see below) after the first operation; if he were a catapillar, he would be a furry puss; if a dictator, Kim Jong-un; if a disease, penicillin-resistant gonorrhea; if a hotelier, H. H. Holmes; if a car, a pinto. And as a filmmaker, he has all the talent of the pustulant pimples on Harvey Weinstein's fat ass.
The world would be a better place were he to stop making films. Don't believe that? Then sit through Shark Week.

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