Sharksploitation is a 2023 American documentary film written and directed by Stephen Scarlata, who also produced the film alongside Kerry Deignan Roy and Josh Miller.The documentary examines the sharksploitation film subgenre, which centers around sharks and shark attacks.
How much do we love Sharks?
Mother’s only get one day, but it’s Shark Week.
And from Megs to ‘Nados to super sharks eating Samuel L. Jackson in the middle of a Samuel L. Jackson speech, we clearly cannot get enough shark movies.
Shudder’s Sharksploitation takes a…wait for it…deep dive into the titular subgenre, building a scattershot timeline for how sharks have been depicted in cinema, both BJ (before Jaws) and AJ (after Jaws.)
First-time director Stephen Scarlata rolls out a respectable array of film historians and pop culture commentators, interspersing the requisite film clips, and sometimes bunching several together via split screens.
Scarlata doesn’t always follow a strict chronology, which can be a bit distracting as the approach sometimes groups the shark films by era, and other times by a similar theme.
Still, there is some solid info here, such as the progression of sharks being held as Gods in the 1931 Murnau film Tabu, to being held by evil geniuses in Bond films, to being hunted for harassing a small New England town over 4th of July weekend.
And, of course, once Jaws practically invented the “blockbuster” as we know it, shark mania was cranked up to eleven while stoking a fear that wasn’t exactly based on fact. Jaws author Peter Benchley came to regret this, and the film is careful to show how he later would devote his time and energy to ocean conservation.
But in the decades since, the laws of shark physics (“shar-sics”!) have been willingly ignored by shark films, and Scarlata achieves a fun sense of mischief by often following a film synopsis with a quick cut to an increasingly exasperated marine biologist.
There’s also an enlightening and funny look behind that infamous line from Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, a revisit to the influx of sharks on 70s TV (lookin’ at you, Fonzie), before a relative “cooling off” period and an eventual rebirth kicked off by 1999’s Deep Blue Sea and the emergence of SyFy channel originals.
But along with the low-budget ripoffs and the intentionally ridiculous, Scarlata reminds us that their are more recent films (Open Water, The Shallows) that found ways to thrill with new rules for an old game.
The film’s a little rough around the edges, and it suffers from a wandering nature that can seem like treading water, but Sharksploitation is an entertaining trip through the history of a beloved subgenre. And ultimately, it feels both welcome and overdue.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to shop for Mom’s Shark Week gift.