If I think of horror movies set on lakes, I think of Friday the 13th and I Spit on Your Grave. Shark Night 3D takes place on a lake, a shark-infested saltwater lake, and it feels like a blend of those two precedents: like the former, the villain is a preternatural predator—nature’s boogeyman, the shark; like the latter, the real bad guys are actually a few violent, perverted and crudely racist good ol’ boys. The sharks are their minions, physical manifestations of their bigotry, sexual violence, and class insecurities. They’re true monsters.
And a band of college-aged archetypes are their quarry, spending their mid-semester recess at a friend’s Louisiana lakeside/sharkside house—there’s The Nerd, The Jock, The Gamer and The Black Guy; The Slut, The Latina and The Virgin, each a total hottie. (This is PG-13, so the topless ladies are always seen up to their necks in water or with their backs to the camera; The Nerd has a muscled physique and chiseled features, but he wears glasses.) The sharks, all 40 or so, become kinds of class avengers, dishing out comeuppance to those enjoying the fruits of privilege (you should see this lakeside house); or, they’re the embodiment of redneck madness, picking off disenfranchised peoples and the white males who would protect them.
The shark attacks are like individually tailored nightmares. The Black Guy, who pulled himself out of poverty through sports excellence, loses his arm—the essence of his value. His fiance-to-be, The Latina, loses her life because of her loyalty to him. The Slut isn’t raped, but assailed by phallic fish, a sort of rape by nature. They’re all the victims of the have-nots, lashing out at the elites who laughed at them. And who else was sitting there, also laughing at those Deep South hicks? Why, it was the audience, implicated in Shark Night 3D, as they also were in this weekend’s Apollo 18, by the presence of cameras—camcorders attached to the sharks, capturing raw POV video of the shark attacks to be sold to the small overlap between audiences for Shark Week and Faces of Death. Our bad guys aren’t just psychos—they’re filmmakers. And the only thing worse than the people who make movies about killer sharks are the people who watch them.