Kate is a shark expert whose business has been failing since a shark attack killed a fellow diver under her command. Once dubbed “the shark whisperer,” Kate is haunted by the memory of the attack and unable to get back into the water. With bills piling up and the bank about to foreclose on Kate’s boat, Kate’s ex-boyfriend Jeff presents her with a lucrative opportunity to lead a thrill-seeking millionaire businessman on a dangerous shark dive – outside the cage. Battling her self-doubts and fear, Kate accepts the proposal and sets a course for the world’s deadliest feeding ground
Generally, before you read a book or endeavour into any sort of activity, it helps to find out what you’re getting yourself into. Rarely does anybody do things blindly; with no idea as to the potential pros and cons of their actions. Needless to say, this truism counts enormously when watching films and, respectively, reviewing them. It’s the groundwork that is necessary; the prior research that allows you to gauge some semblance of the narrative, form presuppositions and avoid any huge revelations. When we attend a fast food restaurant for a burger, we don’t just declare to the customer service guy “gi’us a burger”. No – we chose our particular preference of burger based around the ingredients we are reliably informed it contains on the menu. Digressive example completed, Dark Tide appears to be an exception to the rule. I suggest that you don’t read about it, make no assumptions and take a leap of faith. It could determine how much you either like or dislike it.
To quote a brief synopsis provided on the Dark Tide IMDB page:
“A professional diver tutor returns to deep waters after 9 years, following an almost fatal encounter with a great white shark. The nightmare from the deep is still lurking – more carnivorous and hungry than ever.”
Here’s another courtesy of Fandango.com:
“When Kate witnesses one of her fellow divers getting killed during a brutal shark attack, the resulting trauma renders her incapable of braving the ocean depths. Meanwhile, the bank threatens to foreclose on Kate’s boat and it begins to look as if her career has become stranded ashore. Kate soon gets the opportunity to settle her debts, however, when her ex Jeff introduces her to a wealthy entrepreneur who’s willing to pay a lot of money to experience the thrill of swimming with sharks. Reluctantly, Kate agrees to lead the dive. But shortly after steering their boat into Shark Alley, all of her greatest fears begin to come true.”
Let me reference a few terms used within each paragraph: “nightmare”, “lurking”, “carnivorous” and “Shark Alley”. Now, marry this with the opening spectacle of our protagonist, Kate (Halle Berry) prancing around in a floral bikini like a Spring Breaker at Lake Havasu. What are you thinking? Possibly the same thing I was at that point; this is the kind of film you refer to as a “flick”; titillation not narrative; a fun frolic full of B movie escapades ala Shark Night 3D, the Shark Attack trilogy or the Piranha series. John Stockwell – the man responsible for Blue Crush and Into The Deep – was once again the man at the helm for another display of what happens when the utopian bohemian surf culture goes awry. Subsequently, I can confirm that the film demands more respect than was initially afforded it due to assumptions. The thing about examples of previous Stockwell films, and what is instantly evident again, is that they are all driven by the sentimental imagery of the beauty and tranquillity of paradisiacal locations.
These are holiday spots that would entice us to feign a convenient two week illness to get off work just so we could send our friends a boastful postcard reading “wish you were here”. This time it’s the sandy shores of Cape Town, South Africa. Dark Tide appears to be a slow-paced appreciation of the surroundings for a long while. There are many shots of the sea life in all its glory, marvellous sun-drenched landscapes and the community. This is foremost ahead of the narrative or any marine biology twaddle that Berry may attempt to educate you with. Harbouring preconceptions about this film in comparison to any other deep sea thrillers will set you up for surprises – emotions you wouldn’t have expected to experience once you’d read the synopses. The scenes are predominantly more artistic than animalistic; a chronicling of aquatic exploration where swimming with sharks is romanticised and only becomes a problem once the weather dramatically deteriorates. One could argue that, because the shark encounters are not just sensationalised as horrific, these scenes are more authentic than the shark scenes filmgoers have grown accustomed to.
Films that include sharks are typically categorised as horror/thriller. Essentially, the narratives are dim-witted and redundant; the characters are merely chum for Great Whites to feast on and the audience to feast their eyes on. Jaws is possibly an exception because we’ve come to love the characters; each adding a personal dimension within a crew of Ahabs. Expect the same from Halle Berry who plays the adventurous yet forlorn marine biologist literally diving headfirst into facing her fears. Initially, she grafts out relationships with her cohorts. The opening scene sees Berry, videographer husband, Jeff (Olivier Martinez – S.W.A.T, Unfaithful), wingman, Thembo and captain, Tommy, relating closely and establishing a sense of long-term companionship within twelve measly minutes. Whether this camaraderie translates to the audience is debatable, consequently, conveying the regret and self-loathing she would feel had she lost any one of them to a fatal accident was no mean feat. She did it and believably so. Throughout we are privy to her deterioration from a charismatic individual to somebody who is mentally tortured from her ordeal with death. It was interesting to watch, even more so within the context of shark free-diving as, within this dangerous context, a poor mentality can prove to be a mortal flaw.
By the time we are midway through the film, relationships have gone completely sour – even the new ones that are introduced. Though Berry and Martinez are undoubtedly eye candy, there is never really amorous chemistry between them as a married pair. From a marriage that is seemingly symptomatic of their relationship as professional work partners spawned awkward vaguely romantic scenes you just cringed at instead of longed for. Conversely, their divorce portrayed the pair, bizarrely, at their most connective – as a bickering former item teeing off against one another in the emotional ‘Blame Game’.
Kate has several issues to deal with and they begin to overwhelm her. Jeff, not only has the divorce, but also bankruptcy on the horizon. New arrivals, Brady, and his son, Luke, have a tempestuous rapport too: Brady supposedly claims to have been diagnosed with cancer whilst Luke is constantly being browbeaten by his father. We now have several volatile elements on a small vessel together over violent waters, surrounded by sharks. Soon, the subtextual reference to suicide or idyllic death (if there is such a thing) becomes apparent. Look at it this way: swimming with sharks – genuinely side by side with them – has only been done by a handful of people it’s claimed in the movie. What better way to call it quits than to cross off the ultimate entry on your bucket list? Maybe I’ve read too much into it but contemplate this theory while you watch.
Reading up on Dark Tide – even the title itself – was largely misleading until the final act. This was not necessarily a bad thing as it made for something fresh but it could have gone either way. There were jolts of excitement and dread but, mainly, each time they occurred they were snuffed out by Berry as if she was still assuming one of the superhero roles of her previous contracts. It takes some time to go through the gears; when it does, it’s an engaging watch that both thriller and drama lovers can sink their teeth into.
Dark Tide (2012)