Film Reviews

The Black Demon – Film Review

Contains spoilers.

Ever since Steven Spielberg brought the novel Jaws to life on the big screen there’s been a demand for shark movies. Despite being nowhere near as dangerous as the films portray them to be, sharks have ended up capturing people’s greatest fears about the oceans; the fear of being helpless in an environment humans just aren’t equipped to survive in.

Sharks have gone on to represent a primal fear, and it looks like their popularity as a monster of the deep isn’t going away any time soon. Since Jaws we’ve seen regular sharks going after swimmers in films like Open Water, man-made monsters turning on their creators in films like Deep Blue Sea, and we’ve even got prehistoric sharks returning from extinction in stories like The Meg. If you’re looking for sharks, there are plenty of different takes on them to scratch whatever itch you’ve got. They’re even in tornados now too.

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The Black Demon begins in the dead of night, at a remote oil rig off the shore of Baja, where a pair of workers are preparing to take a sneaky dive into the waters below. It’s clear that the two of them are up to no good, and that there’s more going on than first appears, and when one straps an explosive device onto part of the rig those suspicions are confirmed. However, we don’t get much of a chance to learn more about them, as something strange begins to happen to the diver as he starts to see things that aren’t really there, before he’s attacked and killed by a shark.

From this intriguing cold open we meet the Sturges family, who are driving to a small town on the Baja cost. Paul (Josh Lucas) works for an oil company that owns El Diamante, the rig we saw at the start, and he’s on his way there to perform a safety inspection. Along for the journey are his wife, Ines (Fernanda Urrejolas), teen daughter Audrey (Venus Ariel), and young son Tommy (Carlos Solórzano), who are planning to spend some time relaxing on the beach whilst Paul heads out to the rig. Expecting to find the quaint little town where they first fell in love, Paul and Ines are shocked to find a ghost town, a place on the verge of collapse where most of the citizens have already left it.

With much of the town’s woes being firmly placed at the feet of the oil company, the Sturges family soon meet animosity from the locals, and Ines and the children are forced to flee for their own safety, jumping on a boat and following Paul out to the rig. Unfortunately for the family, the rig is under attack from a massive shark; one that won’t allow anyone to leave alive. Trapped on board with a pair of survivors from the original crew, they’ll desperately need to find a way to survive, little knowing that their time is quickly counting down.

The Black Demon will likely feel quite familiar to those who’ve seen a few shark attack films. The El Diamante rig’s isolation makes our protagonists unable to escape to safety. The angry locals means that rescue isn’t coming. And the old, half broken rig and literal ticking clock means that they simply can’t just sit back and wait for help. The characters are alone, without help, and need to think of something fast. It’s the kind of scenario you expect with this movie. But The Black Demon does at least try to do a few things slightly differently. The first of these being that this isn’t a regular shark: it’s a megalodon. Megalodon’s are ancient, prehistoric sharks that existed for 20 million years, and died out around three million years ago. The largest sharks to ever inhabit the Earth, they could reach up to 60ft in length, and dwarfed even their modern day cousins, the Great White.

This isn’t the first film to use a megalodon, and The Meg book series became a huge hit for doing so, and whilst that story and its big screen adaptation went out of its way to explain how a prehistoric shark species could still survive and return to our oceans, The Black Demon does not. However, that does kind of play into the second thing that the film does to try and be a bit different: it introduces the supernatural. There is suggestion in the film that the shark has been sent as a punishment by the rain god Tlāloc, and that there’s no scientific explanation for its presence. Whilst this could be chalked up to local superstition (a view Paul has to begin with) the film doesn’t seem to want to give a concrete answer. The shark does seem to have the ability to make people see things that aren’t real, and the film makes a point of lingering on images of Tlāloc at times. It leaves it down to the viewer to decide if this is a prehistoric survivor, or a gods revenge.

Whilst the possibility that the killer shark might be a supernatural being gives the movie an interesting edge, most of the rest of the film ends up feeling like things that we’ve seen before. The script doesn’t seem to want to try anything too innovative, especially with its characters. The characters that we do have are fine, but there’s nothing about them that’s hugely interesting, and even familial strife does little to add drama. Sadly, because the characters do little to stand out or really appear interesting (other than the young Tommy) it means that you don’t care a huge amount about who lives or who dies. Added on to this, there being young children involved seems to lessen the tension somewhat, as you never really feel like they’re going to be in any real danger.

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The Black Demon tries to push the killer shark genre in some interesting directions at times, whilst at others it seems to want to play it safe and rely on tried and tested tropes. Because of this, it ends up being one of those films where you’ll be entertained but will likely not come back to it again. Some of its ideas might stick with you, but thanks to the film not doing much with it the project kind of feels like a missed opportunity. Pushing more into the supernatural angle, and making a firm stance on it may have alienated some viewers, but it would have ended up with a stronger final product. As it is, The Black Demon is a decent way to spend an hour and a half, but ends up being nothing more than that.

The Black Demon is out on Digital Platforms on 19th June and on Blu-ray and DVD on 17th July from Signature Entertainment.

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