The Black Demon

Director: Adrian Grunberg
Starring: Josh Lucas, Fernanda Urrejola, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Venus Ariel, Carlos Solorzano, Omar Chaparro
Distributor: Rialto Distribution
Runtime: 100 mins. Reviewed in Jun 2023
Reviewer: Fr Peter Malone msc
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Sustained threat, brief injury detail and violence

Oilman Paul Sturges’ idyllic family vacation turns into a living nightmare when they encounter a gigantic megalodon shark that will stop at nothing to protect its territory.

Yes, important to say at first, this is another shark movie. And this time, the shark is a Meg, a prehistoric megalodon (popularised recently by the series with Jason Statham, The Meg).

The shark trend is now almost 50 years old, and can be traced back to (blamed on?) to Steven Spielberg’s 1975 American summer release of Jaws (and the rest is history). So, so many writers and directors have felt that they need to contribute their own shark film – and director here, Adrian Grunberg, was born in March 1975, just as Jaws was released to the world.

However, some differences. The setting is the Mexican Baja Coast. The central character, however, is American and, as will be explained later, he is definitely an Ugly American. But the production was filmed in the Dominican Republic.

At the opening, there is information about Mexican traditions, the story of an underwater beast, a Black Demon, an aggressive and destructive shark. And, immediately, on an oil rig off the coast, the workers are attacked by the Demon. In fact, during the film, there are many references to beliefs, religious for some, superstitious for others, and a reference as well as statues and imagery of Aztec deities.

Into the rather drab town, the citizens rather listless – or aggressive – comes an American family, father, mother, teenage daughter, little son, almost picture book with the niceness as well as the tantrums of the children. The father is Paul (Lucas), who soon emerges as an Ugly American. He is colonial in his attitudes towards the Mexicans. He is arrogant in US supremacy and know-how. He is completely rationalist, ranting against religious superstitions and their effect. And he works for a huge US fossil fuel corporation which has cut many corners on the maintenance of the rig out at sea, just beyond national jurisdictions. And later we, and Paul’s wife, a sympathetic character, discovers that he has been cutting corners, pleasing his affluent masters. He has arrived in the town to go to inspect the rig.

We do not need to be an Oscar-winning screenwriter to know what is going to happen. And it does – though, with some variations. Paul visits the rig, finds two survivors, the rig in disrepair (which is his fault for not reporting failures in the past), the threat of the shark. When some of the locals behave suggestively towards the daughter, mother hurries the family onto a boat to be with her husband. So, there is the family with two of the workers, not quite ready to combat the Black Demon.

Paul is shown at his aggressive worst, especially in his rants and despising of superstitions but, a touch of spoiler here, he is ultimately convinced that there is more than he can deal with rationally and the group joining in prayer before the final confrontation. And, he does admit his guilt and is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for his family.

There are a lot of hostile reviews. Many of them don’t seem to have noticed that there are some deeper themes, although the nature versus capitalistic humans is evident, environmental and exploitation themes by fossil fuel corporations. But they seem not to have registered the possibility of some kind of repentance, atonement, an appeal to better human nature.

Yes, this one, small-budget and not so well-known, takes its place along with the 50-year gallery of cinema sharks.

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