The Black Demon

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you can’t make a shark look realistic, don’t even bother making a shark attack movie. The creators of The Black Demon would have been smart to consider that. A potentially cool premise is hampered by a shark that’s rendered with the kind of murky CGI that causes everything to look grainy and fake. When you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for a picture like this and find that you can’t, the whole experience ends up crumbling.

Paul Sturges (Josh Lucas) works for the Nixon Oil company. He’s sent to Baja, where his job is to perform a safety inspection on a rig partway out in the ocean. Accompanying him on the trip are his wife Ines (Fernanda Urrejola), teenage daughter Audrey (Venus Ariel), and young son Tommy (Carlos Solorzano). They’re supposed to stay back on shore to relax while he works. After a run-in with a couple of menacing locals, they hop a motorboat and venture out to be by his side.

What Paul discovers is shocking. Aside from two men, the rig is completely abandoned. And hovering in the waters around it is a ginormous megalodon shark. This local legend, known as the “Black Demon,” not only eats people, it supposedly has the power to mess with the minds of anyone who enters the water. (People who fall in see bloody computer-generated body parts floating by.) When it destroys their way of getting back, everyone is left stranded. Paul has to figure out a way to save his family before the creature either eats them or destroys the rig, sending them plunging into the ocean.

Shark attack movies can get away with loopy premises. The Black Demon sets itself up as though it’s going to be fun in a 47 Meters Down kind of way. The oil rig setting is original, and putting the characters so far out at sea that they have no immediate available help pleasingly ups the ante on danger. Incorporating culturally-specific details is a nice side touch that differentiates this movie from others of its kind. By every outward appearance, it should be a blast.

But then the shark comes in. Director Adrian Grunberg (Rambo: Last Blood) shows it sparingly, perhaps realizing that the underwater CGI is not the greatest. He can’t keep the shark offscreen forever, though. When the megalodon does appear, it simply isn’t convincing. We don’t believe the characters are being assaulted by a real shark, which completely dissolves any suspense that could conceivably be created. The film lacks a single scary moment.

A third-act detour into an environmental message feels every bit as forced-in as it is. And really, what could be less thrilling in a shark attack movie than a pause for didacticism? The performances are fine and the oil rig set is impressive. The Black Demon has the raw ingredients to be a decent B-movie. All it needed was a shark that didn’t look like garbage.

out of four

The Black Demon is rated R for some grisly images. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.