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Something horrid, some fin blue…

Something in the Water (15)

Director: Hayley Easton Smith
Screenplay: Cat Clarke

Starring: Hiftu Quasem, Natalie Mitson, Tashani Bent

Running time: 86 minutes

Cinema release

Review: David Stephens

Shark movies. They ain’t gonna go away. Ever. If you want proof of that, just look at the statistics around the Netflix sharkploitationer Under Paris. Directed by Xavier Gens (Frontier(s)) it had decent reviews despite the preposterous premise, cheerleading from Stephen King, and droves of eager viewers driving it to become one of its most-watched movies for the streamer in a ridiculously small amount of time. Want more proof? How about a national cinematic release for a British shark movie? Yep, that’s a thing, and here it is. Something in the Water isn’t a documentary about dysentery or typhoid. It’s directed by Hayley Easton Street, who is best known for VFX and art direction on stuff like the Harry Potter franchise and other blockbusters. However, rather than a sea-going gorefest, at its core, this is a semi-realistic suspense thriller in the vein of  Open Water or The Reef… but with a British wedding party instead of arguing couples. The cast features Lauren Lyle from Outlander, leading some media to typecast the project as the “Outlander star's new shark movie” (Why does the UK press need to categorise everything like that?). Perhaps more interestingly, it is a film that is female-centric to the point that only one male (the groom) has any lines of dialogue, which shatters the Bechdel test and delivers a viewing experience without having to make that a “thing”. More importantly though, is it something worthy of your cinema time?


The storyline kicks off with a loving same-sex couple (Hiftu Quasem as Meg and Natalie Mitson as Kayla) strolling through dark alleyways in London. They become the victims of a vicious hate crime, perpetrated by a gang of young women. Cut to a year later and Meg suffers from anxiety attacks and has split from Kayla, having partly blamed her for inciting the incident. Now travelling to an unspecified slice of paradise for a lavish destination wedding, she’s unprepared to see Kayla there also. Nevertheless, she stays and enjoys the run-up to the ceremony with her BFFs the bride (Lizzie played by Lyle), adventurous Canadian Cam (Nicole Rieko Setsuko), and psychiatrist Ruth (Ellouise Shakespeare-Hart). The day before the wedding, they “kidnap” Lizzie to zoom off to a distant desert island in a crappy jet boat. It’s all fun and games… until a shark has someone’s leg (partly) out. Then it becomes a fight for survival for all five of them during the day and a night.


In some respects, the narrative structure of SITW is similar to that of The Descent, albeit without the grit, blood, and swearing from that cult classic. Five gal pals looking to connect and support each other, only for it to all fall apart when they become stranded and fall victim to an animalistic menace, as well as some internal conflict. However, those expecting a simple case of constant stalk n’ bite or a watery take on a slasher flick may well be disappointed. Although it very definitely has the staples and tropes of a typical shark film, the actual appearance of the aforementioned marine menace is incredibly low. It’s even lower than what we saw of “Bruce” in the first half of Jaws. There are no animatronics and there is (thankfully) a very low quotient of unconvincing CGI trickery (apart from a couple of quick-fire shots). Mostly the finny fiend is represented as an under-the-surface entity, a fin charging through the water, or an overhead shot of the clear blue sea. When it is briefly glimpsed at least it looks and acts realistically. It most certainly is not a “character”, which is actually quite refreshing these days, where most movie sharks tend to act like vindictive boogeymen rather than actual animals with basic instincts.


Perhaps the biggest USP for SITW is that it’s so damned British. In what other shark movie are you going to see the main cast dancing and lip-synching to S-Club Seven!? Not only that, but it’s crammed full of F-bombing, dad jokes (“We’re all in the same boat here”), and snarky one-liners. When one character embarrassingly admits that she’s going to urinate and worries if it will attract the shark, she gets the response; “Well, I’m not sure if they’re potentially into golden showers”. Characters also tell the animals to “fark off” and punch them in the head. Makes you proud! Say what you like, but you’re not going to get those types of interactions in the Deep Blue Sea or 47 Metres Down films. For a relatively low-budget affair, the exotic location is handsomely filmed with some really striking cinematography taken in the Dominican Republic, especially in the long shots, and overhead sequences. Despite that, it is fairly obvious that a fair few of the sequences of the characters bobbing about in the water have been filmed in an infinity pool or studio-controlled conditions.  


The biggest bugbear that a lot of the audience is likely to have with the movie is probably going to be the horror/shark content. On first impressions, it’s certainly no PG film. The initial attack leads to an in-your-face bit of graphic gore that would easily slot into one of the Piranha movies. However, that’s pretty much the splashiest bit of detail that you’ll get, as it’s more about survival than floating viscera. The main thrust comes from the emotional impact of injury and death, with one character being surprisingly selfless in their approach, and another refusing to go down without a fight. Couple that with minimal appearances from the titular menace and plenty of soul-searching from the bobbing bridesmaids, and you should not be expecting a hi-octane experience with jump-scares a-plenty.


Ok, so it’s no Jaws. But neither is it one of those rubbish CGI efforts that turn up with depressing regularity. Admittedly the last act does become sadly contrived with unlikely occurrences and near-misses. It also blatantly rips off The Shallows to a shameful degree. After the relative tension and emotion of the mid-section, it feels like a rushed and obvious way to sign off and flip the finger to any sense of realism. None of the cast is going to win a BAFTA for their performances, but at least they seem to be having fun with the material (and enjoying the location work). It helps that there are nice little touches like sunburnt faces after a few hours and that endearing habit that we Brits have of immediately blaming someone for bad luck and just as quickly feeling guilty about it. In comparison to that, it does seem a bit odd to make a big point about Meg’s anxiety attacks and then do absolutely nothing with that plot detail when she’s trying to survive. Also, huge, missed opportunities by having no one say, “Shut up Meg!” or even make a Jason Statham in-joke comment. For shame!


All in all, this is an okay survival “horror”. Some potential fans are going to be turned off by the lack of “Jaws”-action and the amount of sentimentality that’s on show. Perhaps Under Paris is going to be your best choice in that case. But at least the authentic attitudes of the Brit cast and the overall emphasis on realistic threats make it somewhat different to all the other bitey epics in this ever-growing genre. It’s also nice to see this kind of film on the big screen whilst it’s still an option and it goes nicely with a big tub of popcorn at the same time. For that reason alone, this is something you “water” consider.

It’s a decent enough survival thriller that takes time to develop characters and set-up, providing a tense and effective mid-section. But it does get silly and generic towards the end and is likely to disappoint shark movie fans in some respects. However, it’s Britishness feels refreshing and there are some gnarly moments. Slightly different Elasmobranch horror (Look it up).
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