Despite looming financial troubles, Kaz (Katrina Bowden) and Charlie (Aaron Jakubenko) appear to live a picturesque life on the Australian coast, delivering tourists to breathtaking locations by chartered plane. Their latest assignment is to ferry business analyst Joji (Tim Kano) and his wife Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi) to a secluded beach, along with their business associate and chef Benny (Te Kohe Tuhaka). As the film’s title and its bloody opening scene suggest, this ill-fated journey soon comes under siege by dead-eyed denizens of the deep. With the plane taking on water through a of row of jagged tooth holes, the survivors are forced to rely on a flimsy inflatable life raft to protect them long enough for rescue.
Director Martin Wilson has a background in directing commercials and certainly has an eye for slick editing and sumptuously lit frames. As the film progresses, he is able to move the story between intimidating expanses of ocean and claustrophobic underwater environments in a way that keeps the action varied and dynamic.
The CG monster itself is a mixed bag, with some of the shots ringing clangingly false, while others, the briefer the better, managing to evoke some of the uncanny brutality of a giant shark. White wisely avoids showing the shark wherever possible, employing the ‘less is more’ approach that has been a staple of shark movies ever since Jaws. However, in some of the later action scenes, the tension of the man vs. nature showdowns is severely undercut by the transparent falseness of the monster.
The story hints at depth, providing briefly sketched ulterior motives, desires and phobias for each of the protagonists and nodding towards an environmental message. However, these are frustratingly shallow waters. Ultimately the film follows a path that is far too predictable, with any genre fan having a good shot at guessing the order of deaths and the number of survivors.
When the action moves onto the life raft, this stripped back style of storytelling begins to hamper the movie. With only a thin layer of inflated plastic separating the group from certain death, the raft should be the perfect setting for tensions in the group to bubble over. Joji, with his white-collar snobbery and entitlement oozing from every pore, seems like the perfect villain for this section. However, the dialogue is too basic and the character interactions never feel sufficiently realistic or tense. As a result, these sections drag, and it feels like we are treading water while we wait for the next shark attack.
Great White delivers all the greatest hits of a shark survival horror film: frothing red water, shots of legs dangling enticingly beneath the surface, and ominous black fins circling hapless survivors. However, it doesn’t have a great deal to say that wasn’t already said in films like Jaws, The Shallows and Surrounded. Story-wise, it mainly delivers bland characters and a predictable plotline. That said, for first-time feature director Martin White, it’s a promising start, boasting some really great camerawork and well structured action sequences. For super-fans of the shark attack sub-genre, Great White will be a welcome addition to the canon, but outside of its niche, this is one fish that’s unlikely to be making waves.