Part sci-fi horror, part disaster flick, all bullshit, Deep Blue Sea is the only worthy entry in the sub-sub-sub-genre of Jaws-knockoff B-movies. It’s also one of the few of these movies which doesn’t force feed audiences a human villain: Susan McCallister (Saffron Burrows) may toy with forces she shouldn’t, making smart sharks–capable of formulating an on-the-fly escape plan accounting for weather and air traffic–through the offscreen magic wand of genetic tampering, but she’s not malicious, merely driven. Notably, she only endangers herself and others inadvertently, and only when she thinks there’s something to salvage from her Mako shark-protein Alzheimer’s research. The only threats are the Makos and the sinking research station caused by their havoc. They push the research team and corporate executive deciding their fate (Samuel L. Jackson) towards increasingly desperate measures to survive and escape.
While Renny Harlin is able to construct some genuinely tense shark attacks, layered with pitch-black humor (an aside where LL Cool J’s chef has to fight his way out of an oven turned on by a Mako’s thrashing), Deep Blue Sea‘s biggest thrills come from subverting expectations. A heroic speech, delivered by Jackson, is interrupted, the star unceremoniously bisected. Other expected heroes, including a fidgety nerd, get similarly torn apart. The film finds its center with Carter, an ex-con turned shark wrangler played by Tom Jane. Carter is shown pre-disaster as a risk-taker, swimming in open water with the sharks; after things go wrong, he throws himself into danger to buy the others more time. In another film, he’d be presented as the group’s best chance before becoming fish food pre-climax, prompting the nerd’s ascension to protagonist. Here, Carter’s masculinity is underscored by quiet observance of his surroundings and a fierce determination. If he can’t trick a shark, he’ll simply grab its snout (a sensitive area), flip around and hold on for dear life. Like LL, or the sharks, he refuses to wait on genre.