Bye you in the bayou

Red Water

2003 92min

Dir. Charles Robert Carner

There is a weird kind of masculinist environmentalism in Red Water where organizers who connect ecosystem devastation to war and oil extraction get a deserved comeuppance but thoughtful, individual men can legitimately come to care about the environment only if dragged there by a killer shark. It’s as if it is ok to care so long as you don’t tell anyone about it. It’s one of the only notable things about Red Water, a 2003 TV movie starring Lou Diamond Phillips, Coolio and Kristy Swanson. A bull shark is loose in the Mississippi River and it has killed a few people. Some violent men working for a drug gang are trying to recover drug money from the river bottom are also loose in the Mississippi River and have killed even more people. The oil industry is also loose in the Mississippi River and has killed many millions of people. But somehow the shark is the bad guy and source of horror for the story.

Red Water finds John (Phillips) down on his luck in the Louisiana bayou and needing a big score to stave off the bank from repossessing his fishing boat that is also his house. Along come his ex (Swanson) who is working for an oil company drilling in the river. She recruits John, a former oil worker, to help troubleshoot their drilling problem. On site they run into three men trying to recover money that one of them dumped in the river before a jail term. A series of nonsensical and deeply improbable decisions later and the oil crew and money hunters are at odds with each other as well as a bull shark that is hunting down seemingly everyone. From that point is Man Dodging Bullets vs. Shark until the credits roll.

Like all shark attack movies, Red Water fails to ask: can a shark even do all this? The answer is: No. At one point, a shark appears to kill several people within a matter of minutes. An earlier scene with John’s mentor makes it seem like the shark is eating the people it kills. Which would mean that over the one day the film takes place, the bull shark eats three times its body weight in soylent green. If we understand the early scene where a fisherman laments the lack of catfish to mean the shark has eaten those catfish, then it has eaten an even larger quantity of its body weight. No shark can do that. Nor does it randomly vary its feeding ground over such a wide area in such a short time. But since, somehow, filmmakers cannot imagine being killed and eaten by a shark to be a terrible or terrifying event, they have to create a monster in its place in order to approach horror.

Red Water isn’t a remarkable film. It would be a pretty standard heist film or shark attack movie and it’s very slightly novel that it combines the two. It’s reasonably well shot and paced and, apart from  a couple of spots, the shark effects pass muster for a 2003 film. The performances surpass the budget but the budget is low so that’s not much to brag about. Overall, it’s kinda weird and you could do a lot worse.

A bunch of bull sh***

Bull Shark

2022

Dir. Brent Bentman

80min

Bull Shark is a study in wildly divergent quality within the same project. The film is well shot and the main cast is up to the task. On the other hand, the script is terrible, as are the effects. It makes you wonder what they could’ve accomplished had they the budget for professional rewrites, better effects and even near competency for the bit parts (such as the wildly overacting fisherman).

The plot is lifted directly from Jaws. They swap out Nantucket for a north Texas lake and the sheriff for a game warden and a great white for a bull shark but otherwise it’s the same story with the same message. A mayor concerned about protecting tourism incomes refuses to close the beaches despite a young girl being killed by a shark. The shark then kills more people and leads to a main protagonist vs. shark final battle. Sure, the details are all different, but it’s just a low budget Jaws in Texas where at least one thing, shark movies, are not bigger.

Bull Shark shares with all shark films a silliness inherent to the genre. The bull sharks in question simply cannot do the things the sharks in the movie do. The first person is killed and eaten by a newborn bull shark pup. While I’m sure a bite from a 2.5ft baby bull shark could be quite unpleasant, it’s hard to imagine it being able to kill an adult human. Nor could it eat multiple people over the course of the film. Sharks just don’t eat as much as they are purported to do in these movies.

So far as micro-budget shark films go, you could do a lot worse than Bull Shark. It’s not really a good film, but is somewhat watchable due to camera competency and a couple strong performances. Can’t really recommend it but if you’ve lost the remote and can’t get to the TV because your cats are sitting on you, it could be a lot worse.