Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on May 19, 2008, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.
How can you tell the difference between Shark Swarm and the other “Maneater Series” nature-amok DVDs released by Genius Products following the movies’ Sci Fi Channel premieres? Well, for one thing, this flick debuted on the Hallmark Channel instead. And for another, at nearly three hours, it’s twice as long as your typical Sci Fi original, which unfortunately doesn’t translate to twice the entertainment value. Indeed, Shark Swarm may actually have less plot than some of its 90-minute counterparts.
The storyline plays out in the coastal community of Full Moon Bay, which may be a Charles Band reference, given the other in-jokes scattered through Matthew Chernov and David Rosiak’s script: Some of the action occurs in the waters around Spivey Point (cf. The Fog) and F. Murray Abraham plays one Professor Bill Girdler—though the intentional humor pretty much ends there. Full Moon Bay is in danger of losing both its old-fashioned appeal and its populace thanks to the actions of ruthless luxury-condo developer Hamilton Lux (Armand Assante, presciently introducing himself as “Ham”). He and his company have been dumping toxic waste into the surrounding ocean, which has killed off much of its fauna—all part of Lux’s plan to ruin the fishing trade and get the residents to sign away their property. It also has the side effect of altering the brain chemistry of the local sharks, which have begun atypically hunting in interspecies packs and chowing down on swimmers and divers.
Our hero is local fisherman Dan Wilder (John Schneider), the only man in town willing to stand up to Lux and his evil scheme. Dan’s brother Philip (Roark Critchlow) is a teacher at the local college, where he lectures on how man’s tampering with the balance of nature can have deadly results. Philip winds up catching the eye of Amy (Heather McComb), a visiting EPA agent looking into Lux’s activities, who at one point conducts an important meeting with him at a card table by a pier. The filmmakers approach the corporate/collegiate sides of the story with all the sophistication of people who may have seen one or two movies on similar subjects.
That wouldn’t matter so much if director James A. Contner (who has experience with the subject matter, having DP’ed Jaws 3-D) delivered where it counted: in the attack scenes. Instead, most of them play out the same way: the computer-generated fish swim en masse past the camera, looking like escapees from the Jaws video game; the hapless victim splashes and flounders; one or a few of the digital predators nose and bite at the camera; the victim thrashes some more and then disappears below the surface as the water clouds with what looks like Pepto-Bismol. (Only during the climax is the blood properly red, and only here do a few animatronic sharks show up to complement the CGI.) Several of the attackees are never properly introduced before they meet their toothy fates—their deaths thrown in as if to meet a quota—and the number of ways the movie finds for the hapless souls to fall off boats and docks into the drink gets to be an unintended running joke.
Equally silly is the fact that even as a dozen or so people are claimed by the shark swarm, nobody in Full Moon Bay seems to notice their disappearances. But then, the townspeople don’t seem terribly swift; a guy on a small craft, communicating with his scuba-diving buddy below, sees the killer fish massing around him, and all he can think to tell his pal is, “There’s something weird going on up here.” Dan finally cottons to what’s happening when he discovers a fishing boat adrift, has it towed back to shore and discovers a great white tooth embedded in a jagged hole in the hull. Just so the scene doesn’t appear completely derivative, Dan kicks the boat and whole bunch more teeth fall out—take that, Jaws! Thank goodness Philip just happens to have a Navy contact who can sneak him a bag full of top-secret “pulse guns” that are perfect for face-to-face confrontations with the maneaters.
On and on it goes like this, with certain sequences apparently staged to create anti-suspense. Toward the end, Lux’s evil henchman Kane (John Enos III) submerges Dan and his wife Brooke (Daryl Hannah) in a shark cage, telling them that they can drown inside it or try to swim out and get eaten alive by the predators. Then he goes below decks, the better not to notice when Dan and Brooke slip out of the cage and back onto Kane’s boat with an absolute minimum of fuss, taking out one of his goons along the way. The ease of this escape apparently emboldens Brooke, who later races to the rescue of a church group unwittingly conducting a baptism in the dangerous waters, and she heroically plunges in to confront the finned terrors—after the religious folks have already fled back to the safety of the sand.
Shark Swarm doesn’t even offer the satisfaction of a cathartic ending, as the threat simply ends with no decent explanation. It’s enough to make you think you fell asleep and missed something—which, under the circumstances, would be entirely understandable.