There’s a certain sort of terror embedded within our psyche of what lives in the ocean. We, as humans, are frail. We can’t hold our breaths for very long, our teeth are nearly useless in combat, and, by comparison to predators within the oceanic kingdom, we’re not very strong swimmers. These factors contribute to our innate thalassophobia: the fear of the ocean or the fear of deep water.

Just in time for Shark Week, the new documentary SHARKSPLOITATION has made its splash, chronicling the phenomenon of cinematic obsession surrounding these apex predators. Directed impressively by Stephen Scarlata (writer of BEYOND THE GATES and FINAL GIRL), the film is carried by a throughline of interviews with filmmakers, marine biologists, and oceanographers. The cohesive doc does a terrific job of using fact to expound on fiction, chronicling the evolution of pop culture’s obsession with shark movies. From JAWS to JAWS [4]: THE REVENGE, and everything in between, the documentary serves as a suitable, less sensationalized alternative to the often misleading, false contributions of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

The film’s ability to simultaneously revere and mock the importance and absurdity of this niche subgenre is commendable. Horror film historian and filmmaker Rebekah McKendry regales the realism of OPEN WATER while professor and monster expert (how does one get that job?!). Dr. Emily Zarka discusses the history of shark iconography throughout cultural lore. Meanwhile, marine biologist Vicky Vásquez admits she “just f*cking loves bad movies,” and famed master of cinematic gimmickry Roger Corman sings Spielbergian praises. Four-way split screens amusingly compare the similarities between sharksploitation tropes, while enlightened comparisons are made between micro-budgeted classics like FRANKENSHARK versus big studio hits like THE SHALLOWS.

An exciting segment recounts the history of the SyFy channel and the phenomena of its deep-sea monster movies. An account of the process to get a sharksploitation movie made for the network is amusingly recounted by director Misty Tailey (SANTA JAWS, OZARK SHARKS), while Asylum producer David Michael Latt discusses how much fun it is to do so, and what a surprise it was for the made-for-TV films to become so successful. It’s difficult to believe it’s been a mere decade since SHARKNADO went viral and became a staple in pop culture… whether we like it or not.

Perhaps the docs most important feat is its commentary on the necessity of sharks in our oceans and their conservation. As fun as watching a 30-foot beast tear hapless beachgoers to shreds, it also carelessly spreads false, unfounded rumors and fears about sharks and their behavior patterns.

SHARKSPLOITATION is the latest in a trend of horror-based documentaries chronicling the genre’s place in cultural zeitgeists – a worthy one.

SHARKSPLOITATION is available to stream on Shudder.

Ricky J Duarte

[He/him/his] Ricky is a writer, actor, and singer. He's also the host of Rick or Treat Horrorcast, a biweekly horror movie podcast. He lives in a super haunted apartment in New York City above a giant, spooky cemetery with his evil cat, Renfield, and the ghosts of reasons he moved to New York in the first place.

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