Movie Review: “Deep Blue Sea”

Before talking about our next film, let’s reflect a little bit on Renny Harlin’s directorial career thus far up to this moment. Although Prison was the first film I talked about from his filmography, it was not his actual directorial debut. Rather, his directorial debut was a Finnish film called Born American. Likewise, too, after A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Renny Harlin went in a different direction with his career than what I choose to talk about on the Nightmare Shift. This isn’t because he didn’t have a lot of success, because he did.

In 1990, he directed Die Hard 2, which was not only largely well received and financially successful, but is arguably the film he is most known for. Frankly, I don’t want to watch Die Hard 2, and so, I am not going to. I haven’t seen it and, in fact, I can barely remember anything about the first Die Hard. That in mind, maybe there is a chance I will one day go off track and talk about all the Die Hard movies on The ‘Bib. It wouldn’t fit the general vibe of a series, but I do intend to divert off the set path every now and again if I have enough interest in the subject matter involved.

The reason I mention it is because I wanted to preface that I am only talking about the horror or horror adjacent films on Renny Harlin’s filmography, but I wanted to be forthcoming about some of the other noteworthy films he has been a part of. Something I will mention about Die Hard II is that it had a rather interesting development that I think fits the overall narrative forming about Renny Harlin. Die Hard II took a repurposed script based on a thriller novel called 58 Minutes, and did so because it wanted to strike while the iron was hot with their new fledgling Die Hard franchise. That, coupled with his experience with Elm Street, sort-of creates this feeling that Renny Harlin is seen as a capable director, capable of rolling up his sleeves and doing workman-like directorial duties. That, in and of itself, may not sound like the most flattering thing to say about a filmmaker, and we usually like to think of directors as visionaries who helm films and blaze a unique trail, but, stepping in like he did with Elm Street 4 (which went onto become the most financially successful film of the series to that point) and Die Hard 2, which had the tall order of following one of the most critically revered action movies of all time, and not only did that, but made over one-hundred million more at the box office than the original, that’s commendable and shows a level of competence that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Renny Harlin didn’t return to horror again until 1999 with the science fiction horror film Deep Blue Sea. This is a shark film, for all intents and purposes. I can’t really say I am a particular fan of shark films, per se, but that has more to do with my lack of exposure to them than it does my actual dislike of them. I don’t have the nostalgia for Jaws, still haven’t seen The Meg or The Shallows, and I don’t think I will ever be caught dead watching the low-effort, low-budget shark movies that can be found strewn around the SyFy channel. When stripped away of any preconceived notion, I can understand the concept of a shark movie and while it might make for an appealing horror film. The ocean is a largely unexplored explored body of water and, above the surface, who knows of the unknowns that hide beneath? It’s a novel concept and I am open to it, and, if nothing else, for this exercise, Renny Harlin is two-for-two in his horror filmography, so who’s to say his body of work shouldn’t lend trust to the story he can tell with a body of water?

The film was written by Duncan Kennedy, whose resume includes this and the 2012 shark film Bait, so clearly he is a writer that has taken a liking to aquatic horror. It was also written by Donna and Wayne Powers, whose names can also be seen attached to the 2001 slasher film Valentine. This film sparked something of a film series, receiving two sequels, granted both were released direct-to-video. Curiously, both films were released long after the original, coming out in 2018 and 2020, respectively, so they didn’t particularly strike while the iron was hot with either of them. Deep Blue Sea was a decent box office success story. We talked about how A Nightmare on Elm Street IV: The Dream Child was the highest-grossing film of the Elm Street franchise at the time of its release, whereas Empire Pictures isn’t particularly known for its theatrical releases, so it shouldn’t surprise you I have little to write home about our first film Prison and its theatrical fortune. Deep Blue Sea made 165 million worldwide off a reported budget ranging from 60 to 82 million. How successful a film is can be complicated. A production budget doesn’t account for the amount of money spent on marketing and promotion which can sometimes be considerably high. Likewise, theaters do receive a healthy cut of the ticket sales, and although some will say otherwise, it isn’t a set in stone, cut in dry amount. Domestic profit is more lucrative than foreign sum, for example. Territories such as China can take as much as seventy-five percent of a film’s box office gross from studios. At any rate, and not to bore you too much with technicalities and homework, I would surmise that Deep Blue Sea was at least a modest success for those involved.

At first, I wasn’t certain about exactly what kind of film this would be. Would this be like Piranha 3-D, where it feels like a spin-off of American Pie with a horror twist, would it feel like a slasher that swaps Michael Myers for a shark, or would it feel like something more grounded and subdued? The opening scenes of the film bring us on a boat with young, pretty people drinking and having sex, and I feel like my question is pretty well answered. This will be a stupid fun movie, and I am okay with that! A straightforward, cold open that brings us into the fray with nameless characters so we can unabashedly watch them be torn to shreds. It is simple, but it is almost always a winner in the fun-horror genre. As it ends, however, I am not met by hot people torn limb from limb, and I am confused. Less than five minutes into the film, I am met by scientists giving heart felt speeches about the agonizing struggles of Alzheimer’s and I am once more on the hunt for what exactly this film will be.

About twenty minutes in, and I have a deeper understanding – the humor is playful, but isn’t sharp or pointed, with a lot of the character development being based on charm. The sentimentality of their goal being to end Alzheimer’s is an easy way to pull at the heart strings without having to do a lot of heavy lifting – like cancer, Alzheimer’s is just something we immediately know to wince at and feel sympathetic about. This is not a slasher film at all. This is an action monster movie for a mainstream audience, like Kong: Skull Island or the American Godzilla movies.

Fortunately, they have Samuel L. Jackson in the film, an actor who was incidentally in Kong: Skull Island, and he is the type of naturally charismatic and likable actor who can do this type of film in their sleep if he wanted to.

So, basically, there is this testing facility that is trying to learn more about sharks, specifically about how their brains function and whether that information can be applied to our own brains – like, for example, whether it can stop us from being stricken by things like Alzheimer’s or dementia. The way they explain it walks the fine line of sounding logical enough to seem plausible and being vague enough that my stupid brain doesn’t try to poke holes in it.

Samuel L. Jackson’s character is this rich executive who is sent down to the testing facility after a shark is able to escape the compound and nearly kill a group of people – those hot young people that we talked about earlier. Meanwhile, we have him, but we also have the doctor Susan McAlester who is willing to risk anything if it means moving forward with her work, and Carter Blake, an ex-con who helps take care of and train the sharks. All three have a dynamic that both makes them likable and unlikable. Carter is more of an every man, a person who made a mistake and will judgment and persecution for that mistake, but he’s also cocky and has a chip on his shoulder. Samuel L. Jackson’s character Russell seems like a sweetheart as far as I am concerned, but he is an executive with a lot of money, and so, he’s also inherently a little unlikable. Meanwhile, Susan’s unlikable versus likable trait comes from her noble desire to help people clashing with her disregard for what it takes to get there.

This is, in some ways, the fullest movie I have talked about of Renny Harlin’s so far, but that in itself brings on a mixed-bag of emotions. The characters are decent enough. Like I said, this is an action blockbuster-y kind of film, and a lot of the time with those you see actors coasting on charm and charisma. This isn’t a knock on him, but this is the exactly the reason you see Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in so many of these movies. He is good in them! The man is naturally likable and has a kinetic energy that makes it so you can effectively copy-and-paste him into about any action scenario and you will come away with a halfway decent action film every time. This film has that same sensibility, but there is this feeling that they wanted to wedge in as many tropes and sentimentalism as they could in the film’s runtime.

LL Cool J is in this film. He’s a rapper and sometimes, apparently, an actor. He will be in the next film I talk about on this Podcast, so we might as well accept it. For what it’s worth, he himself isn’t awful. Rather, it’s what the film has him doing that makes him feel superfluous and unnecessary. Real quick, what’s your least performance by an actor who isn’t traditionally known for their acting? Got it? Good. Mine’s Chris Tucker from The Fifth Element. LL Cool J isn’t that. He’s, for the most part, pretty basic and inoffensive. At first, it seems they have the character for comedic brevity with his pet parrot, then he has a bad-ass action hero moment that came off as unintentionally comedic, then, they try to have him be serious. He himself isn’t particularly bad in any of it, it itself is just kind of bad. This is a ridiculous comparison, but it reminds me of Tom Green’s role in that movie Road Trip, where there is this entirely different movie happening, and then, every now and again, it just randomly shows Tom Green fucking with a snake. All of LL Cool J’s scenes before he joins the main-group, feel tacked on and unwarranted, and like the film could have shaved off a bunch from its budget and runtime without them.

I wanted to like this film. I can see myself liking a film like it (and, in fact, I do like other films like it). I like Samuel L. Jackson. Early on, the film carries a kind of light-heart charm that made me feel like I would at least have a fun time with it. Unfortunately, I found myself bored by it more often than not. This might have something to do with the fact I am not particularly a fan of shark movies. The film has a lot of yada yada in it before it is time for the shark movie to shark movie, and I found that it took away from my overall enjoyment. I can appreciate a slow burn. I can appreciate buildup and suspense, and how less can sometimes be more. But hearing a bunch of busywork dialogue with scientific gibberish that I know will ultimately not play a key role in the film – along with the tonal mishmash of hearing them talk about curing brain degenerative diseases, then, saying “The sharks are smart now!” doesn’t do a whole lot for me. When the time finally does come for the movie to unwind, the payoff is pretty uninteresting. A lot of water swishing and swashing in places, a lot of moving from one room to the other, but not a whole lot of interesting scenes with the shark. That’s what I want. This doesn’t have that.

I will say – right after the first hour ends – there is a scene with Samuel L. Jackson’s character that involves him doing a rah rah speech, trying to rally everyone up against the opposition, and it’s hilarious and, by far, my favorite part about the film. If you don’t see this film, I would recommend you at least take a few minutes out of your time to seek out that scene.

I found myself unable to become invested in this film. Part of that, you might say, is on me. As prefaced, shark movies have never been my cup of tea, but, also, the film definitely plays more as a mainstream blockbuster than it does a sci-fi horror film. The other part, however, is the one I am willing to fight for. The film has some elements of better films, like Alien, has a couple of moments that brought out a laugh or two, but is a fairly standard popcorn movie you’d expect around the turn of the millennium. The movie is so indistinct that it blurs together with other movies, to where, even though I was mighty confident this was my first-time viewing of Deep Blue Sea about half an hour in, by the end, I was fairly certain I had seen it well over a decade ago and completely forgot about it. It isn’t horrible. It functions, for what it is, but it personally did little to nothing for me.

Rating: – 1.5 out of 5.0