Based on its premise alone, Adrian Grünberg’s The Black Demon should be the greatest film of all time. After all, 2018’s The Meg taught us the world needs more movies about megalodons, so why not combine these monstrous predators with mysterious lore? It has all the ingredients to become a cult classic and everyone’s favourite Friday night movie, but this aquatic horror sinks rather than swims in the end.
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What is The Black Demon about?
Oilman Paul Sturges (Josh Lucas) takes his family on a vacation to the Mexican coastal town of Bahia Negra. The town has been mostly abandoned as the people tell the Sturges family about a mysterious black shark that is terrorising the waters and attacking the oil rig belonging to the company Paul works for. Of course, Paul and his family find themselves stranded in the water with a group of people, and they need to fight off this shark before it finishes them off, one bite at a time.
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In Jaws, Steven Spielberg waited for almost an hour and a half to show the shark in the movie. In the end, Bruce the great white has around five minutes of screen time. It worked, though, since Spielberg was a master of horror and the actors carried the simmering tension throughout.
It’s clear Grünberg uses Jaws as the template and inspiration, hiding the shark for long stretches and asking his actors to convey their fear of this monster. In theory, Grünberg should hold an advantage over Spielberg for two reasons: One, a megalodon is more unstoppable than a regular shark, so it should be scarier based on principle alone. And two, the technology available now makes the possibility of bringing a megalodon’s feats to life even more frightening.
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Unfortunately, Grünberg lacks Spielberg’s timing and craftsmanship. The Black Demon lacks the nerve-wracking element of Jaws as it lacks the bite to rouse the viewer. While Spielberg is capable of leaving the audience on tenterhooks and then pulling the rug out at the right time, The Black Demon doesn’t deliver a single jolt of fear.
It also doesn’t help that the characters are extremely unlikable. This is more the fault of the script than the director, but it’s hard to get behind most of these individuals or to even cheer for them when redemption presents itself. In fact, the only character that everyone prays for here is the cute Chihuahua.
What The Black Demon does right
While horror is all but absent in this film, the underlying theme is strikingly powerful. The shark acts as a metaphor for Mother Nature, who is giving humanity a harsh warning about how we are mistreating her. The Black Demon also delves into the extent of human greed and corruption and how it is fast becoming the catalyst for the collapse of modern society.
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Looking at it through this lens paints a different picture of what’s happening on screen. The intent is here in dribs and drabs, but it is let down by lacking the necessary layers and connective tissue to keep the audience invested in the message. Had the direction and overall acting performances been stronger, The Black Demon could have been something spectacular.