Thursday, June 20, 2013

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Swamp Shark

The Bouchard family, led by intrepid big sister Rachel (Kirsty Swanson), owns a charming little eating place named the "Gator Shack" down in the swampiest part of Louisiana, an establishment that combines the charms of local live music, local food, and watching the place's very own gators eat.

Trouble brews when Sheriff Watson (Robert Davi) accidentally releases a rather primordial looking deep sea shark into the local waters while working his second job as the middleman in illegal animal smuggling operations. The shark, let's call him Swampy, soon proceeds to eat the Bouchards' gators, as well as a guy who was on rather unfriendly terms with former football-playing Bouchard brother Jason aka "Swamp Thing" (Jeff Chase). Despite Rachel having seen the shark's fin when it did the deed, Watson thinks this is a good opportunity as any to confuse the situation, and blames the Bouchards' gators for the death.

Clearly, there's just one logical way to clear the Bouchard family name and keep the restaurant open: hunt down the shark. So Rachel packs in all fighting-fit members of her family, her pretty pretty younger boyfriend (Richard Tanne), and the mysterious Tommy (D.B. Sweeney) who just might be an agent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service out to catch the Sheriff.

Now this, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make a fun low budget shark movie without having to resort to giving the thing tentacles or having it munch on airplanes (next up: Wing Shark). Not that there's anything wrong with the latter approach, of course.

After living through the horrors of his dreadfully unfunny "comedy" Arachnoquake (write-up to be posted one of these days but surely not the movie I'd want to think about in my triumphant return to health), I didn't expect anything at all of director Griff Furst for this one, but where that movie seemed proud of its stupidity and rather mean-spirited to boot, this one's something of a feel-good movie with a few shark victims (but who cares about them, right?), and the ability to sell its silliness with a friendly grin instead of jumping up and down shouting "look how crap I am! Isn't it hilarious!?" (it never is).

Swamp Shark is also, at least for a SyFy movie, rather subtle when it comes to its titular CGI creature, only showing it off in short glimpses during surprisingly effective suspense scenes as you know them from other shark movies, and the mandatory mutilations, though there really aren't all that many of them. Usually, that's a very bad sign in a SyFy movie, for if there's one thing even the shittiest of them do, it's showing off their monsters proudly and regularly. Who cares about the humans anyhow? In Swamp Shark's case, however, I'm all for spending as much time with the human main characters as possible, for the Broussard family is a fun and likeable bunch of slightly crazy working class people it's easy to fall a bit in love with. Sure, every single one of them is a variation on a cliché, but then aren't we all? Plus, Swamp Shark's screenplay as written by Eric Miller, Charles Bolon and Jennifer Iwen does sell its clichés by always getting the tone of the situations they are put in just right.

The characters' general likeability is further increased by a cast of game actors. Kristy Swanson is pretty great as butt-kicking older sister matriarch, Robert Davi has already played cops crooked and straight when CGI sharks were only a blink in the eye of Mister CGI, and everybody else is just as much of a caricature as she or he needs to be, and feels pleasantly relaxed at it.

Being and feeling relaxed and sure of itself really seems to be Swamp Shark's main virtue to me. I'm even tempted to conjure up the old "laidback South" cliché to describe it, which is something a film this much interested in going for Louisiana swamp local colour pretty much wants me to do anyway.

In any case, this is a film visibly never embarrassed being what it is. Sure, it's a silly monster movie made for TV, but isn't that just about the most fun thing a movie can be when its done as right as this one?


Todd said...

Nice to have you back!

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Thanks Todd! It's nice to be back.

By the way, I hope I'll finally finish my post for you this weekend, before I'm getting really embarrassed.