Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the theater, here comes another shark attack movie! Just in time for Discovery Channel’s yearly Shark Week extravaganza, we get a movie all about a lone girl pitting herself against a great white killer shark. Cue the dah-dum, dah-dum, dah-DUM music!
Budding medical student and skilled surfer Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) decides to go surfing on the same beautiful and secluded Mexico beach where her recently departed mother got pregnant with her years ago. It’s gorgeous alright; white sands, crystal-clear water, and nary a person around, save for two other local surfers (Jose “Yuco” Trujillo Salas and Angelo Lozano Corzo). Her driver to the ‘beach-with-no-name’ is friendly Carlos (Oscar Jaenada) who tells her to be careful. Uh-huh.
All alone late afternoon for “one last ride”, Nancy falls victim to a great white shark, who’s just made a small whale his appetizer. At least 200 yards from the beach and sporting a rather nasty bite on her thigh, Nancy manages to hop on board the dying smorgasbord while the shark keeps hammering away. She decides to swim to a small rock that’s exposed in low tide conditions, while trying not to attract her nemesis. It works, but she only has hours before that rock disappears when high tide comes in. Her only option is to swim to a tethered buoy in the water for safety, but that’s a dangerous swim away as well.
Hours slip by with no help in sight, except for a drunk native on shore who steals from Nancy and… well, let’s just say he won’t be going for help anytime soon. Talking to herself and trying to remain calm, Nancy strikes up a friendship with an injured seagull she calls Steven (get it?). Things look up when the same two surfers return the next afternoon, but it’s feeding time again for our pal, Mr. Shark, so there goes her chances again. Nancy manages to grab one of the surfer’s Go-Pro helmet camcorder and records a message, but will anyone ever see it?
Still bleeding, dehydrated, losing hope, and her rock home fading away fast, she gets an idea to swim through some jellyfish on her way to the buoy, ’cause sharks hate jellyfish. Good news: the trick works. Bad news: the shark gets seriously pissed-off. Nancy now has to fend off this massive fish on a floating buoy that is slowly being chomped away. In an ending that is exciting but, quite frankly, a little hard to believe, Nancy is saved for a tacked-on finale that is all cutsie and really not necessary. But don’t let that hinder you from going to see this fresh, exciting, and nail-biting little film.
The script, what little there is of it, is by Anthony Jaswinski, but the real kudos lies with director Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop, Run All Night) and breath-taking cinematography by Flavio Labianot. The surfing and water scenes are beautifully executed and photographed, shot mostly in Australia’s Gold Coast beaches. Oh, and that shark? Damn nice CGI SPFX on the fish up until the last shot of its death, where it looks like it needed a tuck or two in the rendering dept.
Normally, you’d expect a low-budget movie like this to have great scenery, but lousy acting, and you’d be right. But here, Blake Lively carries the movie better than her last three films (Age of Adelaine, Savages, Green Lantern). She exudes the confidence of a woman who refuses to die at the hands… er, teeth of a killer shark, yet struggles to maintain her inner fear and doubt. And that magnificent body of hers is easy on the eyes, thank you very much.
Shark vs woman? How about dog vs woman? If you don’t like dogs, this movie will certainly validate your fears of them! Based on Stephen King’s gripping novel, this one of the best King book-to screen adaptations that came out next to Carrie, Thinner, Misery, and Stand By Me. Whatever you do, do NOT go near Ford Pinto’s or St. Bernard dogs after seeing this movie!
We start with a big, hunking, playful ol’ St. Bernard doggy named Cujo playfully chasing a rabbit, until it accidentally gets bitten by a rabid bat on the nose and wanders back to his master, auto mechanic Joe Camber (Ed Lauter). Meanwhile, meet the family Trenton: Vic (Daniel Hugh-Kelly), the bread-winner of the family, his wife Donna (Dee Wallace) who is having an affair with her ex-boyfriend from high school, Steve Kemp (Christopher Stone–Wallace’s real-life husband), and their 6-year-old son, Tad (Danny Pintauro in his first screen role) who has a strong fear of monsters.
One day, the Trentons meet Cujo, at Camber’s auto shop where Donna notices the bite mark, but nobody cares. Later on, Cujo goes mad and kills the Camber’s alcoholic neighbor, Gary Pervier (Mills Watson) and then Joe inside his garage. With Vic out of town, Donna and Tad return to Cambers house for more car repairs where Cujo attacks them. Donna and Tad take shelter inside their tiny Ford Pinto, but can’t drive away because the alternator is dead. Uh-oh! Under a sweltering sun, Cujo repeatedly attacks the slowing dehydrating pair. Donna knows that she must do something, before they both die from heatstroke or worse, so she figures several game plans of how to get from the car to the house, but each one is foiled by that damned cantankerous canine!
Soon, Sheriff Bannerman (Sandy Ward) arrives! Yaay! Cujo brutally tears him apart. Booo! Donna takes advantage of this and waylays on Cujo with a baseball bat until it splinters in two, leaving only a jagged handle. Cujo jumps at her and is impaled in the stomach. Donna then retrieves her dying son and, in true “he’s not quite dead yet” fashion, Cujo miraculously comes crashing though the kitchen window in a final attempt to kill them both. WTH?? However, Donna finally shoots him dead with the Sheriff’s gun just as Vic shows up.
Adapted by Don Carlos Dunaway and Lauren Currier, it’s a little on the cheesy side, but in the hands of director Lewis Teague it came out a winner, thanks to the acting skills of Wallace and Pintauro. Yes, those were mostly puppet and mechanical dogs you saw, but the tension was cranked up as Wallace took this role very seriously. Pintauro even bit Wallace’s fingers in his seizure scene; that scream you hear is real! Even King himself said that Wallace was the best actress he’d ever seen portray a character of his, even better than Kathy Bates in Misery.
For all you King fans out there, this movie also corresponds to a continuing story-link of other King novels/movies that all had something in common with each other: They all take place in the fictional town of Castle Rock, featured in The Dead Zone, Stand By Me, The Dark Half, and Needful Things. In fact, Cujo hints at having the evil spirit of Frank Dodd inside the dog, since Sheriff Bannerman mentions psychic Johnny Smith several times. Dodd, Bannerman, and Smith are all characters in The Dead Zone.