Nobody quite makes low budget cult films the way that Australian filmmakers do. Over the years I have been pleasantly surprised by films like Red Hill and Acolytes. So surprised in fact, that I have gone back and re-visited them a number of times. Now Aussie filmmaker Martin Wilson raises the Aussie cult flag high once again with Great White, a film I’ll admit was a lot better than I expected it would be.
The story is simple enough. Charlie (Aaron Jakubenko) and Kaz (Katrina Bowden) are a couple very much in love, but their sea plane charter business is in financial difficulty, which is putting stress on their relationship.
Things seem to be looking up though when they are approached by a young couple, Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi) and Joji (Tim Kano), ask to be taken to a deserted island. However, tensions start to rise not long into the trip when Joji seems to clash with the trip’s chef Benny (Te Kohe Tuhaka) from the moment they first meet. Of course, that pales into insignificance when they realise they have just entered the feeding grounds of a killer Great White Shark who has a recent taste for human blood.
It is the simplicity of this film that actually made me love it. There is none of that B-Grade feeling or over-hype that you often get when American cult films. Instead, Great White has that natural feel that made films like Black Water and The Reef so terrifying to watch. The fact that this film also taps into that primal human fear of sharks, means that it deserves to be mentioned alongside other shark films that I have loved over the years including Jaws and The Meg.
Without too much effort, Wilson’s screenplay makes these people that you care about… well let’s be honest that doesn’t carry over to Joji who is so unlikable, you can only hope that he ends up as shark food. The other characters however, are quick to become crowd favourites. Charlie and Kaz are your typical Aussies from next door, while Michelle and Benny are just purely likable people. The fact that Wilson doesn’t have to go over the top with his screenplay to make that bond happen between characters and the audience shows that he is naturally gifted writer that I can only hope we see a lot more work from over the years.
Of course, the key to this film working is suspense and Great White has that in spades. From the opening pre-credit demise of Luke (Jason Wilder) and Tracy (Tatjana), Great White has you on the edge of your seat. I didn’t realise just how intense these moments were until I found myself fearing for the safety of each character whenever they found themselves in the water. This doesn’t only come from some good writing and brilliant shots from Wilson, but it’s also due to the fact that the sharks look so real throughout the film. Not surprising, given that the filmmakers mostly use real shark footage and keep the use of the robo-shark to a bare minimum.
Sure, some parts of Great White are a little convenient, such as in Charlie’s back-story which means that he is a retired marine biologist who just so happens to have been attacked by a shark before, but these are easily over-looked by a well written film that knows the power of suspense when it comes to shark films. Although some may want to give Great White a miss because of the fact that this is an Australian film, this is their loss, as Great White is easily equally as great and comparable to films like The Reef and 47 Metres Down. Go and see it because sadly I’m not sure it will last long in cinemas.