The PG-13 rating serves as a warning for exploitation-horror-hounds: Shark Night 3D features no sex, no nudity (apart from one guy’s exposed ass), and surprisingly little gore. But the rating isn’t nearly warning enough. It also lacks the tension of a good horror film, or the self-aware humor of a fun bad one. It doesn’t even live up to the minimal promises of the title: There isn’t enough shark action, it mostly takes place during the day, and the 3-D only asserts itself in a couple of shots. By definition, a cast-attrition horror film where toothy fish eat attractive people is setting its own bar mighty low. But even so, Shark Night 3D barely bothered to show up, let alone deliver the minimal goods.
After a round of the requisite halfhearted interactions—just enough so audiences can identify The Smarmy Jerk, The Shy Hero, The Frisky Hottie, etc.—seven Tulane University students head to a vacation home on a Louisiana salt-water lake, unaware that every time someone dips a toe in the water, the ominous underwater shark-cam sequences begin. From the setup to the execution (or more literally, executions), director David R. Ellis—who had similar problems with Snakes On A Plane and The Final Destination—seems tonally rudderless and uncommitted to any particular pacing. Simple shots of a boat on the lake, two women donning bikini tops, or even a character walking to a chair are hacked into jittery music-video mini-montages to spice up the pace. And yet character interactions drag out into excruciatingly dull filler, filled with awkward pauses, flat acting, and laughably portentous looks. When the shark attacks finally start, they alternate between campy Piranha 3D-style kills, extended Jaws-style stalkings, and bafflingly vague bloodless disappearances. (Some deaths feel like they were edited out to maintain the PG-13 rating; how else to explain major characters who silently vanish?) There’s actually a plot reason behind the animal attacks, one with a little potential for social commentary, but like the rest of the film, it’s brought across in an uncommitted, distracted, draggy way that zigzags between comedy and torture-porn without handling either mode well.
To top it all off, Ellis rarely achieves a sense of real threat toward his one-dimensional idiot characters, which is amazing, given that they’re dying left and right. It’s common enough for modern horror films to never provide characters worth caring about, but the shark-snacks here are particularly baffling: They’re hyperbolic caricatures one minute, and dewy-eyed deliverers of serious, melodramatic monologues the next. Worse yet, the film tries to invest viewers in their deep internal pain, then giggles over their messy demises. Everything about the storyline, the shooting, the acting, and the editing seems like it was determined on the set via a spin on the What Kind Of Film Are We Making Today? wheel. Which ultimately landed on “One not worth sitting through, even for the short length of a couple of shark meals.”