Sharksploitation (2023)

With the anniversary of “Jaws,” Stephen Scarlata’s documentary comes at the right time, as sharksploitation has managed to experience something of a resurgence. Along with “The Meg 2” coming to theaters, we’ve also had fodder like “The Black Demon,” “The Devil’s Mouth,” “Deep Water,” and “Cocaine Shark.” So “Sharksploitation” is something of an overdue account of the creation of sharksploitation movies, and how one movie named “Jaws” created what would become a fascinating, often infamous sub-genre of action and horror movies that’s spanned decades.

“Sharksploitation” is not just a look at the sub-genre of the sharksplotiation film but also the evolution of sharks as villains in pop culture and fiction. Interviewing a series of people including scientists, scholars, authors, and environmentalists, Scarlata tries to analyze why we’ve always been so enamored with sharks, and why they’ve always been somewhat hated. They’re magnificent creatures, but they’ve always been so vilified even before “Jaws” came to theaters. Once “Jaws” arrived and became one of the very first blockbuster films of all time, it not only changed the scope of film, but the way we looked at aquatic life.

“Sharksploitation” examines the goofy films and cheaply made rip offs of Spielberg’s masterpiece, sure, but it also takes a conscious step back to consider the damage that we’ve done to the species, and how beneficial the shark is to our ecosystem. Along the way, though, Carlata maintains the fun celebratory tone as he did with “Jodorowsky’s Dune.” There are some great looks at “Jaws” and everything from the rip offs, copycats, and the entirety of the god awful sequels. Carlata goes down a virtual time line from 1975, discussing the ripple effect “Jaws” had as studios rushed to create their own successful killer animal movies. Along with looks at facsimiles like “Mako: The Jaws of Death,” and “Cruel Jaws,” there’s also some fun discussion about the creation of “Piranha” and how they dodged a massive lawsuit.

Pertaining to the physics of sharks, there’s great discussion about the concept of a roaring shark in the “Jaws” sequels, the 3D problem with “Jaws 3D,” and the potential of a Megalodon existing and how it’s impossible. There’s even the discussion of a real life shark death involving a stunt man that caught on film that was used in the actual film. First and foremost, “Sharksploitation” is a great documentary about an unusual but very prevalent sub-genre of nature run amok movies, but it’s also a good look at the importance of predators like sharks, and how it’s best to understand that fiction is fiction, and that sharksploitation tends to be an exaggeration and only that. It’s definitely one of the better movie documentaries to come along in a while.

Streaming Exclusively on Shudder July 21st in the United States, Canada, UK, and Australia/New Zealand.