Man oh Maneater


2022 | 89min

Justin Lee

Let’s get this out of the way first: the shark in the movie is very specifically not eating people. So why is this movie called Maneater? Anywho…a group of mainland colonizers are in Hawai’i to help Jessie (Nicky Whelan) get over being left at the altar. The friends arrange for a boat trip to an unnamed small island to hang out with dolphins and tortoises. As is common for films about vacationing friends there is booze, sexual intrigue, some jokes and, as is less common, a giant shark.

Maneater’s central conflict gets started in the second scene where Harlan (Trace Adkins) wishes his kid good surfing before she goes out and gets chewed up by a great white shark. We learn shortly after that pieces of his daughter were found all over the beach. This leads Harlan to suspect the shark was hunting for sport and not for food. While losing his daughter is obviously horrible, his opposition to sharks sportpeopling is less relatable. There are countless social media feeds, TV programs, books and magazines dedicated to people sportfishing. Harlan even wears a hat with shark teeth on it to brag about his own sportfishing. It’s only fair that fish go sportpeopling as well. Harlan pursues a revenge trajectory and goes off looking for a great white shark that, for some reason, has lots of stretch marks or wrinkles on its face.

Jessie and her friends take off on their trip and share some stories and drinks and make it to the island where they camp out. The next morning the shark starts picking them off, sometimes one by one, sometimes two at a time until what remains of Jessie’s party links up with Harlan and they face off against the shark.

It’s hard to know where to start with this film. There’s just so much that is bad with it. The script is terrible and makes all the dialogue seem forced and, often, incoherent. Take this exchange between Jessie and Harlan:

Harlan: It’s that fucking monster did this.

Jessie: It’s not a monster, it’s the devil.

Harlan: Devil’s don’t bleed. It’s just a fish.

Is it a devil, a monster or a fish? And do devils not bleed but monsters do? Do the poor performances make the script seem worse than it is or is it the other way around? Or are they both bad. Some mysteries just aren’t interesting enough to try to solve and that is one of them. But some of the performances are bad. Trace Adkins has the charisma of a toilet plunger handle and Porscha Coleman gives a visibly effortful turn. The film seems like exactly the kind of result you’d expect from a director who made four feature films in the same year, which director Justin Lee did. At least it could be bad in a fun or interesting way. But it’s just dull.

One of my interests is looking at how films make monsters out of sharks. The usual way they imagine sharks as a perpetual threat is by giving them bottomless stomachs. In film, sharks don’t have to digest their food nor is there a buffet that they cannot exhaust. Maneater gets something right in the process of getting everything about sharks wrong. When Harlan confronts a biologist about the shark eating his kid he asks why so much of his daughter washed up on the beach. Harlan insists that it’s because the shark was sportpeopling and wasn’t hunting for food. In reality, an adult great white shark around the maximum plausible length like the one in the film simply isn’t capable of eating his entire daughter. Great white sharks eat around the same percentage of their body weight as people do. They are much more massive than even the largest people, but not enough so that they could eat an average sized person and would struggle with even fairly small persons. But in Maneater the shark is not eating people at all, just killing them. And given the quality of the film, it’s hard not to be on the shark’s side.