In the mood for a flaky creature feature? Great White will scratch that itch

Great White ain’t groundbreaking. But if you’re in the mood for an oceanic survival thriller with some shark kills it might hit the spot, writes Travis Johnson.

What you have to understand is that pretty much every shark movie is predicated on the fish at hand behaving in ways that sharks never do. They don’t hunt people as a general rule, and they certainly don’t fixate on individual humans to the point of ignoring other, more fish-friendly prey (even the seminal shark flick Jaws is guilty of this, though The Shallows is the silliest and most enjoyable example).

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“Realism” in a shark flick is a spurious notion; rather, movie sharks are avatars of our primal fear of being further down the food chain than we’d like. Plausibility is a moot point when your brainstem is dealing with the visceral terror of being eaten alive.

Still, Great White takes a stab at explaining why the titular apex predator is noshing on its ensemble of attractive young folks. Former marine biologist Charlie (Aaron Jakubenko) wonders if it’s something to do with shrinking fish populations (mature Great Whites largely prey on seals, son) or rising water temperatures, or some such. We don’t get an answer, and fair enough: people are, after all, being eaten, which is a more immediate concern.

The people being eaten are the aforementioned Charlie, now a pilot (he quit marine biology after getting nibbled by a reef shark, the wuss), his pregnant girlfriend Kaz (Karina Boden of 30 Rock and Tucker and Dale Vs Evil), wealthy Japanese businessman Joji (Tim Kano), his wife Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi) and their private chef Benny (Te Kohe Tuhaka). Joji has hired Charlie to ferry his party to sunny Hell’s Reef (Jesus…) for a weekend away, but when they come across a well-chewed body and a seemingly abandoned yacht, the scene is set for a bloody buffet.

Great White comes to us courtesy of director Matin Wilson and screenwriter Michael Boughen, but it’s producer Michael Robertson who brings the When Animals Attack pedigree to the proceedings. He’s behind 2007’s Black Water (killer croc), 2010’s The Reef (killer shark), 2015’s The Pack (killer dogs), and 2020’s Black Water: Abyss (killer croc again).

Like all of Robertson’s malevolent movie managerie, Great White is set in Australia, which both allows for some impressive location shooting (the South East Queensland Coast) and leverages our national reputation for being overrun with killer wildlife. And as with those films, Great White is efficient, effective, occasionally inspired, but generally unmemorable; there’s a formula in play here, and if you’re familiar with it Great White offers few surprises apart from jump scares.

That doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable, though—it just means you have to be open to what the film is offering, which is some pretty people in a gorgeous location, and something that wants to eat them. While the CGI employed to depict the eponymous predator is occasionally ropy, there is simply something about the threat of open water and what might be lurking in it that gets its hooks in you. The odd gore effect is impressive, but what really works is the menace implied by a calm sea—what’s under there, and how hungry is it?

Great White isn’t a groundbreaking twist on the man-eater movie genre, but it’s no slouch either. It does exactly what it promises to. If you’re in the mood for a toothy oceanic survival thriller, this should scratch that itch quite nicely.