Year of the Shark (FANTASTIC) is Fun, French Shark Horror for All
Title: Year of the Shark
First Non-Festival Release: August 3, 2022 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Ludovic Boukherma, Zoran Boukherma
Writer: Ludovic Boukherma, Zoran Boukherma
Runtime: 87 Minutes
Starring: Marina Foïs, Kad Merad, Jean-Pascal Zadi, Christine Gautier
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Fantastic Film Festival in 2022.
Maja (Marina Foïs) is days away from retiring after a long yet boring career as a small beach town police officer. Right as she signs the paperwork to get everything in order, she experiences something that alters her course. After assisting two German tourists with their boat problems, Maja realizes that there is a shark in La Pointe. She not only faces local opposition to the idea of closing down the beaches, namely due to the recent devastation COVID-19 had on the economy the year prior, she also faces internal pressure from her boss and husband to retire. Maja is steadfast in her decision to prioritize the safety of her city, even if it’s the last thing she’ll do.
Year of the Shark is an entertaining and well-made shark horror film that stands out against the glut of mediocre offerings in recent years.
Very much in the vein of Jaws but with its own unique twists, Year of the Shark explores the same ideas in the modern era complete with social media, political instability, and the effects of COVID-19 and environmentalism movements. Maja must navigate the fickle nature of public scrutiny when she has to make difficult decisions or advocate for them when working with the mayor. Everyone feels the need to weigh in from town halls to tweets to even talk radio.
This extends to the idea of safety. Throughout Year of the Shark, people believe that they are responsible for their own safety and that they always make the best decisions for themselves. Without all the information that Maja is privy to, the public believes that they know better. Despite Maja’s best efforts, the public’s lack of trust puts people in danger. This is a clear parallel to attitudes towards COVID-19, especially in the beginning days when little was known.
Marina Foïs does a great job at ushering in the quiet desperation and love of Maja. It’s clear her devotion to her job and duty compels her to act against her best interests, as well as those she loves. Her seriousness is compounded by Foïs’ stoic gaze and blunt line delivery. Maja lives and dies by her willingness to go far beyond the call of duty. Is it for personal pride or true fear of other’s safety. This idea is explored throughout the film with moments lending to the positive and negative effects of this mindset.
From daylight to sunset, Year of the Shark features sharp cinematography that is as visually dazzling as it is disorienting underwater. One of the highlights of the film shows Maja coming face to face with the shark in a steel cage several meters beneath the surface. Between the midnight blue color palette and splashes of blood to attract Maja’s prey into her trap, it’s a surreal sequence that is dripping in tension and vision.
Year of the Shark features some of the best special effects for a shark movie in the last decade. In going practical, the team behind Year of the Shark manages to make their killer animal fearsome and real. It looks like something that could actually exist, which is why it is superior to about 95% of all shark features currently out there.
It doesn’t all work, but that doesn’t stop Year of the Shark from being an enjoyable time. It does drag a bit in the final act, but this is where it finally leans more into its shark mayhem. The film straddles the line between serious and funny. These tonal clashes are evident, but they are still welcome as it makes the sillier parts of the film stand out more.
In what seems like a drought of shark horror, Year of the Shark comes through to cut the surface tension with its commitment to fast laughs and consuming character drama. While it isn’t the action-packed creature feature many may expect, it favors a quiet approach to its horror. Using sharks as a metaphor for COVID-19, Year of the Shark personifies the human fears of economic uncertainty and aversion to science in a way that doesn’t feel preachy. In fact, its most charming feature is its levity, which makes for some humorous moments throughout the slower portions. While it isn’t Jaws, Year of the Shark does enough right that you will be clamoring for more once it says fin.
Overall Score? 7/10