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My thoughts on The Black Demon
As anyone who has perused the DVD shelf at WalMart or the lesser channels in their cable package can attest, people still have an uncontrollable urge to produce crappy cheapo movies in which a bunch of idiots find themselves threatened by imperfectly rendered CGI sharks that are so bereft of thrills, scares or basic entertainment value that they make Jaws: The Revenge seem like Jaws 2 by comparison. On paper, The Black Demon initially appears to be slightly more ambitious and serious-minded than the typical shark attack opus of late, introducing both supernatural and ecological elements into the mix. In practice, however, not only do these elements fail to register or compensate for the usual flaws found in films of this type, they actually have the unfortunate tendency to make the results seem even more laughable than if it had taken a more overtly schlocky approach.
On the way with his family for vacation, oil corporation bigwig Paul Sturges (Josh Lucas) stops off in a run-down town on the Baja coast in order to inspect one of his company’s oil rigs to decide whether it is to be decommissioned or not. Leaving wife Ines (Fernanda Urrejola) and kids Audrey (Venus Ariel) and Tommy (Carlos Solorzano), Paul sets off to the rig but when he gets there, he discovers it to be a crumbling ruin that is leaking oil everywhere and which is apparently manned by only two workers, Chato (Julio Cesar Cedillo) and Junior (Jorge A. Jimenez). Before he can begin to ask what is going on, his family turns up at the rig as well—don’t ask—and no sooner have they arrived that they learn that the waters surrounding the rig are being stalked by a 75-ton megalodon (the same kind of presumed-extinct shark that turned up in MEG) that apparently took care of the rest of the crew.
To make matters worse, Chato and Junior are convinced that the shark is actually a supposedly mythical beast known as the Black Demon, a creature that has been summoned by the greed and malfeasance of the oil company and is hellbent on bringing down both the rig as well as those responsible for its crimes against nature. In additional to all the usual shark features writ larger than usual, this beast evidently has vaguely defined supernatural abilities that inspires terrifying hallucinations in the minds of its future victims before getting down to the snacking. Of course, Paul doesn’t believe in any of that spiritual hokum but he is nevertheless determined to kill the beast, partly to rescue his family and partly out of slight guilt due to the fact that—Spoiler Alert!—he is largely responsible for the environmental havoc wreaked by the rig. Oh yeah, there is also a ticking clock element in the form of a ticking clock attached to a bomb planted underneath the rig by Chato and Junior, sacrificing themselves for the good of their community, that is set to go off in just a couple of hours.
Making the killer shark a sort of supernatural entity is certainly a different move than what one encounters in the typical sharksploitation effort but man, does The Black Demon fail to make any of it work. Even if you are somehow able to find a way to accept the contrived manner in which the screenplay by Boise Esquerra and Carlos Cisco arranges to get Paul’s entire family onto the rig, it ultimately doesn’t amount to anything more than adding a few more character who might occasionally fall into the drink but who most likely will not become the Alex Kintner of the piece. The rest of the screenplay is equally absurd but director Adrian Grunberg has chosen to present it in the most solemn and straight-faced manner imaginable, which only ends up inspiring a lot of bad laughs throughout. Many of these come courtesy of Lucas, who delivers a performance that is almost defiantly awful, especially when he occasionally goes off into barely-motivated hair trigger rages that are so ugly at times that his conversion to selflessness in the final scenes completely fails to register as you are actively rooting for him to get chomped to bits.
Even if you only in it to see people getting eaten by the titular creature, The Black Demon comes up painfully short. Because of the way that the story has been set up, the actual body count is pretty low and what gore there is on display is rudimentary at best. Beyond that, the attack scenes generate no tension or suspense to speak of—you can even sense the surprise shock moments coming a mile away—and when we are afforded glimpses of the creature, it just looks like another imperfectly rendered CGI creature of the sort that turns up all the time on the SyFy Channel. Bizarrely, the aspect of the beast that would theoretically set it apart from other movie sharks of late—its massive size and its ability to inspire hallucinations—are introduced but then barely touched upon: the fleeting glimpses of the shark give no real sense of its scale and the hallucinations are so nebulous that it takes you a while to actually figure what in the hell is actually going on.
Have you seen better killer shark movies that The Black Demon? Even if you have somehow never seen Jaws (which does get an explicit and groan-worthy direct quote at one point) before, the answer is almost certainly yes. Have you seen worse? Well, if you somehow stuck it out through the entire Sharknado saga, the answer would again be yes. However, this one may be one of the more disappointing examples of the sub-genre because it has a potentially promising concept and then fails to do anything with it. Instead, it offers little more than 100 minutes of tedium enlivened only by a terrible central performance and some inadvertently hilarious moments, though not enough to make it work even as camp.