Cinematic Releases: Shark Bait: The Meg (2018) Reviewed

The shark genre is an interesting beast.  On one end of the spectrum lies Syfy's self-aware Sharknado, parodying absurdity itself.  Opposite is Spielberg's stone-cold masterwork Jaws, the pinnacle of oceanic suspense.  In between these two lies a plethora of forgettable schlock and a handful of films that present interesting concepts, such as Jaws 2's slasher-esque presentation and 47 Meters Below nightmarish aesthetic.  Jon Turtletaub's The Meg gravitates closer to the Sharknado end of the spectrum, but not close enough.  Rescuing Steve Alten's iconic horror novel from the depths of development hell, this is a film that nestles comfortably within its own mediocrity, delivering a handful of interesting visuals, lackluster (but understandable) kill scenes, and a diverse, but underused cast.    

Jonas Taylor is a traumatized deep-sea rescue diver who is once again summoned to rescue a group of scientists trapped in an ancient underwater ravine.  The rescue inadvertently releases a prehistoric terror into the ocean, forcing Jonas and his team to hunt the creature in order to save countless lives. It would usually be a disservice to discuss anything with respect to the script or acting in a film such as this, however, Jon and Erich Hoeber and Dean Georgaris family friendly treatment of Alten's cult classic has a handful of memorable attributes.  First, the characters are both diverse and competent.  While certain characters spend less time in the forefront, this is undeniably a story about people of different nationalities and backgrounds working together to solve problems.  One of the most interesting dynamics is between Jessica McNamee and Jason Statham.  The premise of their relationship could have easily been low hanging fruit; however, the narrative goes in a refreshingly positive direction.  Beyond that, each character is more of archetype than an actual personality: Rich man with questionable morals, comic relief, skeptic, etc.


Initially, the centerpiece is the creature itself, until the CGI eventually becomes tiresome.  In between formulaic, bloodless kills and muted carnage, there are a handful of genuinely beautiful shots captured by Tom Stern.  Li Bingbing descending into the abyss in a precariously thin glass cylinder, surrounded by the shadowy depths is both haunting and exhilarating, a reminder of the film's greatest failure.  Suspense, in its various permutations is something that can be appreciated by different kinds of audience's.  Jaws at its heart is a horror story and it has continued to bewitch viewers across the world since its inception.  The tragedy of The Meg is that it is a reflection of the parasitic relationship between audiences and studios.  This week's timely arrival of a new "Outstanding Popular Film" Academy Award is the epitome of Hollywood's fundamental lack of trust in the average viewer, the result of which can be seen in The Meg's underwhelming climax.  Yes, there are quick, jump scares sprinkled throughout, however the finale, involving a densely populated swimming cove avoids any possibility of scaring or even provoking the audience.  Even with a PG-13 rating, a certain amount of mayhem is to be expected and yet Turtletaub shies away from it at every opportunity, as if directing the film from above like a helicopter parent, careful to show the audience the bare minimum required to deliver a “shark” film with the biggest shark of all at his disposal.

In theaters tomorrow, The Meg is, unfortunately exactly what it appears to be at all times.  Aside from a wonderful ensemble and some above-board camera work, this is a film that is defined more by its squandered potential than by the talented cast and crew who created it.  By eschewing all elements of horror and somehow, almost inexplicable managing to avoid self-parody, The Meg ultimately exists in cinematic limbo, a milquetoast offering to audiences on an altar of paint by numbers safety.

-Kyle Jonathan