Under Paris (2024)

JUNE 7, 2024


Much like The Exorcist with possession movies, it's impossible to watch a killer shark movie without thinking about Jaws, which also happens to be one of the few undeniably perfect movies ever made (due to its themes and measured pace, I can understand why someone may dislike The Exorcist, but there's literally no excuse for Jaws. You either love it or you're objectively wrong). And it's spawned an entire subgenre of its own; I may put them in with the killer bear, dog, etc. movies here (the "Predator" sub-genre) but if I were to put all of those movies together, I'd guess shark-based entries would make up at least of them. Under Paris is the latest one, but I bet we're only a few weeks away from another.

Sometimes these movies lean into Jaws' mighty shadow, either by ripping it off blindly or offering direct homages/references as if to say "We are doing our own thing, but we respect our master." Deep Blue Sea is probably the most overt example of the latter, as not only do they find the same license plate that Hooper pulled out of the poor innocent tiger shark, but the three sharks in the movie were killed the same way the sharks in the first three Jaws entries were. So it was kind of amusing that Under Paris owes more of a debt to Renny Harlin's blockbuster than to Spielberg's, as the film is loaded with R-rated carnage courtesy of several sharks.

There's also a lot of DNA from the two Meg films, in that the 3rd act revolves around our heroes trying to prevent a disaster at a big event. While the swiping of the "close the beaches" plot point is practically a given with these things (here it's the Olympic triathalon that the mayor refuses to cancel), we have to recall that Bruce the shark never got a big smorgasbord; the one attack on the all important 4th of July occurs at the movie's halfway point, prompting the three protagonists to head out to sea to kill the fish. Here, the opening scene tops the body count of any single entry in the Jaws franchise, and the third act, as in the Megs and some other movies, they watch helplessly as the shark causes major chaos at the event (going on as planned), spending just as much time pulling people out of the water as they do on shark control. This helps keep the Jaws comparisons at bay, which can only help a movie like this.

Also like The Meg, our hero is dealing with a tragedy on a previous underwater excursion. Bérénice Bejo plays Sophia, an oceanologist whose entire team (including her husband) is chomped by the shark in the opening scene. Years later, she discovers the same shark is now swimming through the waters of the River Seine in Paris, which is being cleaned up for the upcoming Olympics (which really are in Paris, making me wonder why Netflix dropped the movie now instead of next month when their marketing would be basically free). Naturally no one believes her, but after convincing a handful of cops to check it out, and they see it for themselves, they have her back for the rest. Unfortunately convincing the mayor to cancel the events is a non-starter, and there is also a group of "save the sharks!" activists who are trying to lure the shark back to the ocean, so the movie has no shortage of potential victims.

Luckily for us sickos, director Xavier Gens doesn't chicken out and keep the body count low. In two glorious sequences (not counting the occasional brief carnage along the way), the sharks make a buffet out of large groups (the activists and then the swimmers), offering up the sort of R rated chaos that the PG-13 Megs shy away from. Legs get eaten off, the water rapidly becomes more red, people are yanked back under the water only inches from safety... it's the sort of stuff that'd have an appreciative crowd hooting and hollering in a theater, but of course that's not an option when it's the latest movie being tossed onto a streaming service where it'll be forgotten in a few weeks. But back on point, Gens manages to bring some of his "French Extremity" energy (he gave us Frontiere(s), if you recall) to what often resembles an Asylum/Syfy type killer shark movie, which is novel. I even got the impression that no one was truly safe, which is nearly impossible in this sort of thing.

I just wish the CGI was more convincing. It wasn't just the plot that had me thinking of things like Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, as some of the VFX shots didn't really look much better than the ones in those Z-grade movies. There's a part where the shark jumps out of the water from under a boat, capsizing it and sending its four occupants plunging into the river, and it should have been a major highlight, but the shark animation was so silly looking it was hard to really get the intended rise out of me. And while we do see some folks torn apart, there is a tendency to just pull someone out and see that they're missing a leg (or both in one case) without showing the attack itself. That trick is effective once or twice, but at a certain point it becomes obvious they're cutting around things that would just look bad anyway.

Also (spoilers here) the ending is abrupt and not very satisfying. I like the general idea, but it's not even a phyrric victory for our heroes, they just don't ever accomplish anything. And (again with the offscreen stuff) the jerk mayor is seen plunging into the water, but not eaten by a shark like they deserve, adding to the generally unsatisfying nature of its closing moments. The "Planet of the Sharks" idea is fine and even intriguing, but there needs to be some kind of "win" to balance it out, either by killing the main shark or at least showing that it ate the human antagonist at the very least. Also it had one of my pet peeves, where people don't even make an effort to survive and just stand there despite it seeming like they had plenty of time to get to safety (in this case, they're in a boat as a surge of water approaches, and they make no effort to, you know, drive directly away from it). The hopeless nature of its conclusion felt like it was from a different movie entirely, souring things just a touch at a crucial moment.

But otherwise it's a good time. Bejo made for a solid heroine, the setting was novel for this kind of thing (a shark movie without a beach?), and it was taken seriously by its makers, which I can always appreciate. Again, it's a shame that it's being dumped to Netflix instead of playing in theaters, because I suspect the visual flaws would be more forgiving with everyone cheering for the moment, but oh well. One thing Netflix offers a theater can not is the ability to change the language, and you should be sure to do so and put it in its native French as opposed to the English dub that plays by default. It's not too bad as far as lip "syncing" goes, but it has that weird tinniness to it that makes it sound phony even when you can't see the actor's face in the show anyway. Plus if you can't understand the dialogue without the subs you won't be able to look at your phone the whole time, which I assume is how 90% of all Netflix content is watched. But even in English, it's a decent entry in this overcrowded sub-genre and should scratch any itch you may be having for such things.

What say you?


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