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Is it really summertime without a shark movie? Ever since Jaws created the concept of a summer blockbuster, sharks have been a staple of beach-weather cinema. Great White, which opens in theaters and on-demand on July 16, isn’t exactly Jaws. It’s a scrappier, lower-budget affair, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a shark movie. That alone should be chum in the water.
Great White, which is being distributed by RLJE Films and Shudder, follows an idyllic tourist adventure that goes terribly wrong. 30 Rock’s Katrina Bowden and Aaron Jakubenko play a couple who operate a little seaplane sightseeing business with their friend. What should be a normal excursion with two customers turns into a nightmare when the plane sinks and they’re stranded in the middle of the ocean on a raft. And, yes, there are two great white sharks lurking below them.
“We wanted to focus on the fact that there’s a lot of isolation and that is horrifying on its own without sharks involved. We wanted to really focus on those quiet moments in the movie and give the audience that feeling of total helplessness and despair,” Bowden tells SYFY WIRE. “I think those moments in the movie do really make the big jump scares and big action scenes much more impactful because you don’t know when they’re going [to] happen”
The middle of the film leans more into the survival horror genre than the animal attack one, a fairly effective decision that also makes up for some slightly dodgy shark effects in the early scenes. However, don’t let the somewhat more restrained middle fool you — the last act features a scene involving a knife, a flare gun, and underwater shark-fighting. There’s an animatronic shark who probably, all things considered, worked better than Jaws’ infamously difficult Bruce did.
“I was really excited when I saw the animatronic for it. It was pretty phenomenal,” Jakubenko says. “We were in this big tank, it was an aviation tank so it’s crystal-clear and beautiful, and they’ve got this shark that projects forward like 6 or 7 feet. Its head moves, its jaw projects out like a real shark. I think I took a few too many selfies with that thing.”
Great White attempts to distinguish itself in a crowded field by playing with some of the conventions of B-movies. Without spoiling anything, a genre veteran might find themselves a little surprised by which characters die and in what order.
“Great White does a really great job of flipping the typical shark genre on its head in that the people who die may not be who you expect to die, and the order and way in which people who die do die, is interesting in itself and kind of leaves you on the edge of your seat because not everyone dies on accident,” Bowden says. “Some movies you go in knowing who is going to die, but I think Great White does a good job of keeping you guessing.”
As far as shark movies go, Great White is perhaps more mako-sized in scope and scale than some of its competitors. It’s not Spielberg’s masterpiece, which both Bodwen and Jakubenko cite as their favorite shark movie. Great White is just here to provide some of that shark attack (and shark-fighting) action audiences like — and it boasts a few surprises and a fun sense of intimacy.
“You can’t go in with those comparisons to big-budget films because this isn’t Jaws or anything like that,” Jakubenko admits, adding that the smaller nature of the movie lets the cast relax a bit and have fun while still giving the production their all. “It’s nice to sort of separate that and just play it for what it is.”
“There is something kind of fun about doing a thriller-horror type of movie — especially in the shark genre,” adds Bowden. “It’s fun.”
Even as Great White adds another fin to the shark attack movie waters, don’t mistake it for anti-shark propaganda.
“I love sharks,” Jakubenko says. “I think they’re some of the most beautiful and important creatures we have on Earth. They’re important in keeping the oceans’ ecosystem in order and they probably don’t get enough credit for what they do.”
Great White premieres in theaters, digital, and on-demand on July 16.