Fantastic Fest 2022: Shark Movie Sidebar Extravaganza!

Mako, Year Of The Shark, Tintorera, and Aatank… in that order

A glorious thing about Fantastic Fest is that their programming isn’t always about “newest, latest, best”. Each year there’s a sidebar programmed to expand us film geeks’ palettes. I will admit that I don’t always take full advantage of these tracks each year. But this year I made a point to take a deep dive into some shark cinema. Fantastic Fest programmer Annick Mahnert has clearly been one of the champions of this year’s sidebar and has introduced most of these shark films by letting us know they’ve wanted to do this for years and were simply waiting on a new shark movie to come along that was strong enough to hang a sidebar around it. Year of the Shark is that film, and I’ll let you know my thoughts below. I didn’t catch them all, but I have managed to experience 4 shark films, and I’d love to tell you about them (in my order of preference)!

Mako: The Jaws Of Death (1976)

Prolific actor Richard Jaeckel (almost 200 IMDb credits to his name) stars as confused and homicidal Vietnam veteran Sonny Stein, who has an explicitly spiritual/psychic connection to sharks as bestowed upon him by a monk who represents a tribe that worships sharks. When Sonny wears his mystical necklace, all sharks are his friends and he can communicate with them. Right off the bat, however, we also learn that Sonny uses this connection to murder shark hunters. And when he (idiotically) allows a local scientist to “borrow” his favorite Mama shark AND signs ownership of another shark over to a seedy restaurant owner with a live tank-swimming act behind his bar, things get revenge-y. As ridiculous as this set-up is, The Jaws Of Death really moves, with a wacky plot that allows for plenty of shark action. The film opens up with a title card dedicated to the divers who took great risk to get the shots needed for the film. And… you can see that right up there on screen. Most shark movies create a prop shark or use lots of clever cutaways to get around the problem of not having real humans get consumed by sharks on camera. But from what I can tell, Mako just shot real people swimming with, and occasionally being bit by, real sharks!

Year Of The Shark (2022)

The upcoming shark film around which the whole shark sidebar was programmed, Year Of The Shark is a very direct Jaws homage that initially takes a more comedic approach to the idea of a sleepy beach town being upended by the arrival of a man-eating shark. But that comedic tone eventually gives way to more of a solid drama that explores a couple of key questions pretty effectively. 1) What if the Chief Brody character were a woman approaching retirement? 2) What if the global political context and climate change crisis were addressed in a Jaws story?

It’s not a masterpiece on par with something like Jaws, but Year Of The Shark does address these questions interestingly. Lead actress Marina Foïs anchors the entire affair as a highly competent and sympathetic lead Maja. And writer/directors Ludovic Boukherma and Zoran Boukherma mix together laughs, thrills, and potent themes admirably.

Tintorera (1977)

The swingingest shark movie I’ve ever seen, Tintorera takes place almost entirely on a Mexican resort and was apparently Mexico’s response to Jaws. We mostly follow the sexual exploits of Hugo Stiglitz’s (over 270 IMDb credits) boat-owning douche bag Steven as he casually beds women, hunts sharks (apparently actual shark hunting and animal deaths are happening on screen, which is disturbing), and ponders living in the now versus worrying about the future. Susan George gets top billing to show up for a while. “Tintorera” is apparently the Mexican word for Tiger Shark, and eventually some various resort vacationers do get eaten by sharks and Stiglitz will have to step up for a “heroic” conclusion to things. Tintorera is a wild time capsule of a luxurious time and place that also makes you root for the sharks to win, though you know they won’t.

Aatank! (1996)

I’m going to be completely honest here: I don’t normally write up movies that I took naps during. But in the case of Aatank, I’ll make an exception. This isn’t really a movie in any traditional sense. Apparently Aatank was an unfinished Indian production from some time in the 1980s that was then “completed” with footage shot in the 1990s. This results in characters/actors appearing and disappearing throughout. There’s no doubt that it is a shark movie, featuring maybe the most hideous giant rubber shark ever committed to film. But you won’t see that shark for upwards of an hour into the runtime. And not in that Spielbergian “hide the monster to increase its power” kind of way, either. There just isn’t any plot related to a shark for enormous chunks of this film. Instead there are many musical numbers regarding human characters that we don’t know or are played by 3 different actors within the same film. I absolutely get why Aatank screened during Fantastic Fest as the “WTF” nature of the film is readily on display; it’s a real “how did this get made?” kind of film. It has its charms, especially the dramatic conclusion shot almost entirely with highly unconvincing models. But Aatank is the kind of film you’re better off seeing as clips on YouTube rather than committing to the entire runtime.

And I’m Out.

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