Dir: David R. Ellis. US. 2011. 91mins

Shark Night 3D

It’s cheesy animatronic sharks versus wooden human actors in Shark Night 3D, a rather tame horror movie that doesn’t even have the good sense to fully embrace its B-movie tawdriness by being R-rated. Directed by David R. Ellis, the man famous (or perhaps infamous) for Snakes On A Plane, this new film is campy in all the worst ways without being much fun at all.

Shark Night 3D just gives dumb movies a bad name.

Released September 2 without screening for critics, this low-budget affair hopes to take a bite out of the same fan base that patronized last summer’s Piranha 3D. But while Shark Night 3D’s PG-13 rating might help bring in a wider audience, hardcore horror (and nudity) fans may be turned off. Without the benefit of stars or buzz, this Rogue entry should expect a quick swim to ancillary markets and the inevitable unrated DVD that will offer more titillation.

A group of Louisiana college students – led by sensitive beauty Sara (Sara Paxton) and shy medical student Nick (Dustin Milligan) – decide to vacation at a friend’s lake house. Unfortunately, plans for romance and relaxation soon go by the wayside once they discover that the water is unexpectedly infested with ravenous sharks.

Shark Night 3D is cut from the same cloth as umpteen previous exploitation horror films in which a bunch of sexy, shallow young people go out to the woods to party, only to be menaced by unspeakable horrors. But instead of acknowledging the silliness of the endeavour, Ellis tries to build up empathy for his disposable characters by giving some of them back stories and playing up their interpersonal dynamics.

Unfortunately, his cast is largely not up to the task, as the film is populated with lesser-known actors who lack much vigor. (Ironically, the most experienced thespians in the group, Donal Logue and Joshua Leonard, are reduced to playing stereotypical good-ol’-boy supporting characters.) Especially when Shark Night 3D is at its most ludicrous – such as when one character decides to seek vengeance on a shark who took his arm – the cast works so hard to be compelling that it mostly comes across as strained and awkward.

As for the sharks, the effects team does little to make them feel properly terrifying. Trying to justify the “3D” in its title, Shark Night 3D attempts to get scares by having the sharks come straight at the audience. But because the film settled for a PG-13 rating, the kill scenes are shockingly lightweight, neither scary nor disgusting enough to elicit much response. (Indeed, on several occasions it seems as if the filmmakers intentionally cut away from the violence, an unwise decision since subtlety and decency are hardly a concern when you call your film Shark Night 3D.) While no masterpiece, Snakes On A Plane at least displayed a commitment to its magnificent ridiculousness. By comparison, Shark Night 3D just gives dumb movies a bad name.

Production companies: Rogue, Incentive Filmed Entertainment, Sierra Pictures, Next Films, Silverwood Films

Domestic distribution: Relativity Media, www.relativitymediallc.com

Producers: Mike Fleiss, Lynette Howell, Chris Briggs

Executive producers: Ryan Kavanaugh, Tucker Tooley, Douglas Curtis, Nick Meyer, Marc Schaberg, Matthew Rowland, Clint Kisker

Screenplay: Will Hayes & Jesse Studenberg

Cinematography: Gary Capo

Production designer: Jaymes Hinkle

Editor: Dennis Virkler

Music: Graeme Revell

Website: www.iamrogue.com/sharknight3D

Main cast: Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Chris Carmack, Katharine McPhee, Donal Logue, Joshua Leonard, Joel David Moore