The Black Demon – Movie Review


The Black Demon (2023) 

Stranded on a crumbling rig in Baja, a family faces off against a vengeful megalodon shark.

Written by Carlos Cisco and Boise Esquerra

 Directed by Adrian Grunberg

A Horror Movie Review by: Mark Walker

When I first saw the press information and trailer for The Black Demon, I immediately requested a screener for review. I love sharks anyway, but a film with a giant shark? Take my money! (Yeah, I know, I didn’t have to pay for the screener, but that’s not the point…)

Trap walking fish food on a derelict oil rig with no power or means of escape and you have a recipe for disaster, chomping, and terror. 

But does TBD live up to this promise?

Black Demon image 1

Well, sort of. 

It does a decent job, but the combined ingredients don’t quite live up to expectation. For me that didn’t make it a bad film, just one I felt suffers a little from the marketing and its own mild identity crisis – it’s not quite sure what it wants to be. 

But more about this later.

Josh Lucas plays Paul, a big-oil company man sent out to inspect an ageing oil rig off the coast of Mexico. Killing two birds with one stone he has his family with him for vacation time once his work is complete. Driving into town, we get a checklist of horror staples. Derelict buildings? Check. Superstitious locals? Check. Suspicious looks? Check. Religious icons? Check. To be honest, at about 15 minutes in, any self-respecting tourist would be heading back up the freeway looking for a pleasant hotel.

But that wouldn’t be as much fun, would it?

Through a fairly contrived plot device, Paul’s wife and kids end up on the almost abandoned rig with him, but this is no jovial, ‘bring you kids to work’ event. Very soon after arriving they see The Black Demon leap from the water and devour the boat they just arrived on. Matters just get worse from then on in as the two surviving occupants show them the rig is powerless, has no radio, is leaking thousands of tonnes of oil and someone has wrapped some C4 around one of the rig legs. It’s a race against a demon and time.

Black Demon image 2

This is a great set up, a cross between Deep Blue Sea and Underwater and should have set the rest of the film up for some high octane thrills. Sadly, TBD doesn’t quite manage it and the excitement levels don’t quite go high enough, certainly nowhere near the levels expected by the poster – the illustrated scene never happens. Much of this is likely due to the limitations of the budget as we get nowhere near enough shark action. After a magnificent leap out of the water at the start of the film, the rest of the movie is limited to just glimpses of the shark and the odd dorsal fin snaking through the water.

While the grandaddy of all shark movies did this with Bruce for much of the film, towards the end we got to see it in all its terrifying glory. We don’t get that with TBD, so the tension and gore don’t ramp up quite enough to keep horror fans happy. 

However, the film is further scuppered by the fact that it is also trying to be an ecological thriller and just as much about the human impact on ecosystems as it is about a giant shark. And this is where the identity crisis comes in, The Black Demon isn’t quite sure which of these it wants to be and neither quite gets to meet its potential. And this is likely another reason for TBD struggling with review scores. Is it really a giant shark movie, or is it an ecological cautionary tale that just happens to involve a giant shark? 

The poster promises horror, but the film delivers thriller. Neither element is terrible, it just leaves the audience a bit confused about what they thought they were going to see.

Black demon 3

The ecological slant does, however, give the film an interesting premise, with the Megalodon actually a demon seeking revenge on the humans responsible for the destruction of the local ecosystem and economy with their environmentally unfriendly approach to health and safety. The story leans on the ‘real-life’ legends of Tlāloc, an Aztec god of rain, earthly fertility, and water. He is pissed off at humans enough to unleash The Black Demon in vengeance. Not sure I have ever seen an eco-warrior Megalodon before, so it was a new one on me. Utterly bonkers to be honest, but you want a bit of bonkers where giant sharks are involved.

Notwithstanding the issues with the story focus, the cast do a nice job here and Lucas is ably supported by Fernanda Urrejola as his wife, Ines, Venus Ariel, his daughter, Audrey and Carlos Solórzano as his son, Tommy, who does a great job steering the character away from what would, in many other films, be a precocious hopeful for Megalodon wrath. The family dynamic is balanced and avoids the usual troubled teenager and strained relationship you often get in a film like this. These actually come later as the film develops and we learn some hard truths about the rig and the company Paul works for.

This allows for some interesting change in the character dynamics, but the fallout from these revelations, while potentially threatening a marriage and family union, seem to be resolved very quickly. But, at the end of the day, when your life is on the line, I guess you probably tend to get some perspective and life is too short to hold onto grudges.

While the townsfolk we meet at the start of the film lean a little into stereotype, Junior (Jorge A Jimenez) and Chato (Julio Cesar Cedillo) the last surviving rig workers, are more carefully fleshed out and rounded. On the rig, the heroes are the Mexican workers, a nice subversion of expectations and lazy writing that would normally cast the locals as the bad guys.

black demon 4

The budget is likely to have been smaller than most but that doesn’t mean TBD looks less polished. Adrian Grunberg does a solid job with the direction and manages to wring enough tension out of scenes where our eco-Megalodon is threatening the characters. I suspect the budget is also the reason for not seeing the shark all that often, but the CGI we do get is decent enough. Keeping the Megalodon in the shadows for the majority of the film means any weaknesses in the quality are cleverly masked. It’s just a shame this means we don’t get to see some more of the Megalodon in all its terrifying glory; the best shot comes early in the film.

There is some cheesy dialogue in places and some of it doesn’t always work, but you don’t come into a film like this for Sorkin-style conversation. Some criticism can be levelled at the plot which does rely on some fairly contrived story points but, again, for a film about a giant demon shark, it doesn’t really matter how we get our characters into peril, we just want to see them fighting for their lives in the shark’s domain. So don’t spend time picking holes in some of the plot, just go with it. Convenience getting people into trouble is fine in my book, its coincidence getting people out of trouble that becomes cliché and lazy, but TBD doesn’t rely on an easy out.

Ultimately, TBD is a film that I was really excited about seeing, but which didn’t quite live up to the hype. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I was concerned when I saw the scores on IMDB (3.7 at time of writing), but they are far lower than the film deserves, and I suspect many of the reviewers are slightly less forgiving than I am when it comes to the misjudged marketing. To be honest, with very little blood or gore thrown into the mix, this feels more like a 12 rated film than a 15 rated one and, on that front, it will disappoint some who are hoping for a bloody shark slaughter.

As I said above, it is more a character-driven environmental cautionary tale with a Megalodon, than Sharksploitation and I suspect it has been marked down by a lot of people who were expecting and all-out shark chomping-fest.

So, not the best film involving a shark I have ever seen, but also not the worst. I enjoyed it, despite some flaws and if you temper your expectations, it’s worth a stream.

Signature Entertainment presents The Black Demon on digital platforms from the 19th of June and on Blu Ray and DVD from 17th July.

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