Dam Sharks! (2016)

Dam Sharks! (2016)
Dir.: James and John Kondelik
TC4P Rating: 3/9
Species: bull sharks, but bull sharks that build dams like beavers. However, unlike beavers, they use human body parts to do so. (Well, except for Zombeavers, but that's a different movie.)

In lieu of an actual movie poster (can't
find a real one), I offer up this title card...
When I first heard the title Dam Sharks!, without looking up any further information on its plotline, I wondered what it could be exactly. I absolutely discounted the notion that sharks would build dams, and figured that it was probably just a bunch of bull sharks that swam upriver and ended up at the head of a dam area. But that sounds rather dull.

Then I started to wonder if maybe there was a missing apostrophe at the front of the title, and the Dam was really supposed to be 'Dam, as in Amsterdam. I figured there could be a storyline in that city's canals, which would be preposterous, of course, but hell, they already did a Sharks in Venice movie. Why not in Amsterdam? Maybe a sequel, and then have an ongoing series with sharks in any city with canals? At every moment along the way, I was aware that the exclamation point in the title was supposed to remind us of someone yelling, "Damn, sharks!" instead and was not altogether convinced that someone just hadn't misspelled the word along the way. Still, I had to assume that someone had seen fit to make sure that proper spelling was checked before releasing a motion picture, even a potentially low-rent example of one. So, what was that Dam actually supposed to represent? 

It was the notion that I threw out in the first place that proved one thing to me: there is no idea too stupid that the Syfy Channel can't either convince a studio to make a film out of it OR be convinced by a studio that a film with such a premise should be made for their channel. In Dam Sharks!, the second of six shark films premiering on Syfy during their second annual Sharknado Week, the sharks are indeed bull sharks, and those bull sharks are indeed building dams. Surprisingly, they are using not just logs to build them, but human body parts.


'"No, seriously, this all makes sense... somehow..."
So when did bull sharks go full metal beaver on us? I mean, sure, bull sharks have the rare ability to handle the switch from saltwater to freshwater, unlike the vast majority of other shark species. Bulls have been found in many freshwater lakes and rivers on several continents, even verified high up the Mississippi. They are one of the most aggressive shark species around, and some attacks attributed to great whites may have been the work of bulls instead. But, they are not the all-time 'roid rage monsters that internet rumors would have you believe, rumors obsessed with just how much testosterone bull sharks must possess (even the lady bulls) in order for their aggressiveness to be explained. Sorry, but that all-time title still belongs to your date-rapey, douchebag neighbor down the street, and he has no excuse except that he is simply a douchebag.

Dam Sharks! never really takes the time to explain how the bulls came up with this wholly organized plan to work socially together to cordon off two ends of a river system to trap their food supply inside. It seems like an awful lot of extra work for the sharks when they could just eat the bodies and then move on to where there are more people, if that is the type of food they crave (which they decidedly don't in real life). If there is one thing of which this world has an excess, it's people. And in a shark movie, there are always just enough people dopey enough to hang out on or near the water, especially when sharks are already attacking in force. These sharks would never run out of food if they just bided their time. Why build dams in the first place?


A fairly gross if fuzzy example of a human dam
built by bull sharks, as envisioned by poor CGI.
Well, if they didn't, we wouldn't have a movie called Dam Sharks!  As you probably are, my head is filled with questions that revolve around just how the sharks in this film have decided to build dams with human body parts. In order to hopefully find some form of logic out of this (but don't cross your fingers), let's look at the ultra-thin plot in not exactly excruciating detail. The very first scene shows us a large contingent of sharks being swept from the sea and up a river by a storm. Actually, I did not get that from the first scene. I got that explanation later in this film, from a theory by one of the lead characters, Kate, a ranger for the Fish and Wildlife Service. What the opening scene really looks like is a bunch of shark fins swirling about through some river rapids and coming to rest in a more serene area in short order. I did not read "storm" when I watched the scene, but I guess that must be what was intended to be was implied (very poorly) since it is backed up later.

We next see a cliffside next to the water, where a girl has taken off her clothes down to her scanties and prepares to leap into the river for a swim. When she does, her path is cut off by a breaching shark, who snaps her easily out of midway and pulls her into the water for what we assume, at this point, will be a tasty snack. Next, Kate and her partner Mark are sent out to check out why the river level seems to be dropping. They come to a dam structure in the river, and after diving into the water, Mark makes the usual semi-ribald remarks about beaver; I believe the word "swelling" is involved, which gets a smirk out of Kate. As he gets near the dam structure, Mark suddenly realizes that there are corpses and body parts all over the place (these sharks have been pretty busy since arriving apparently). Before he can return to the boat, however, he is attacked full force by a bull shark. Kate tries to pull him out of the water, but Mark's body has been cut in half, and even his hand has been severed. Not taking the time to devour any of the flesh, the shark tucks Mark's body carefully into the dam.

Kabby Borders (Joline) and Jason London (Tanner).
Enter the bulk of the remainder of the cast. A company called Horizon Tech has organized a corporate retreat in this park, and its CEO, Tanner, is gung-ho about leading his employees through several days of team-building exercises and activities like paintball, rafting races, and archery contests. I don't know who actor Jason London paid to keep his name off the IMDb listing for this film, but while most of the main cast are accounted for there, he is not. (I should mention, as of the publication date of this posting, Dam Sharks! is still marked as "In Post-Production" and therefore can't be rated.) London, whom I have enjoyed in a light way in several roles going back to Richard Linklater's classic, Dazed and Confused, is serviceable at best as the only semi-name actor in the ensemble. London, who used to coast on his boyish good looks and the charm that went with them, has gotten a bit older naturally, and now comes off, especially through the use of his character's eyeglasses, as a Stephen Tobolowsky type but with actual hair. (I would have been saddened had they actually gotten Tobolowsky himself for this role, because he always deserves far better than films like this.) London's CEO character is self-possessed and hiding a dastardly secret from his employees, and is naively unaware of how everyone really feels about him. London plays these notes about as well as he can, which is not bad and probably better than the film deserves.


"Team Beezers!" Joline cries
 in another part of the film.
The "distracting hottie" influence for this film is provided by the interestingly named Kabby Borders in her role as Joline, the assistant to London's obnoxious CEO. Joline is bubbly and effervescent though efficient in her job, though Tanner makes it clear to her that such qualities are not needed. "I didn't hire you for your thinking!" he tells her at one point, staring down at her ample cleavage as he does. In her role built for distraction, though there are other equally attractive women in the cast, Joline is meant to provide one point of a proposed love triangle between IT nerd Ted (Saxon Jones), who gets mumbly-mouthed around her, and wild-man office goon Kenny (Eric Paul Erickson), the type of guy that Ted is convinced girls like her normally go for in this world. It does seem like one would know where this is going, but to somewhat of a surprise, one character ends up on the other side of the movie. The others? Well, this is a shark movie, so it will be up to the rules of the genre to determine whether anyone finds true happiness in the end.

Also from the Horizon Tech team are Stella (Neka Zang) and Pullman (Matt Mercer). Stella is hard-working but tired of the grind, while Pullman is, at first, rather a Bill Murray type, who has figured out how to work his boss's idiosyncrasies to his advantage. Pullman has grown used to taking on short-term projects that never are expected to pan out because his boss' attention turns to another bright shiny object (which therefore means Pullman never has to work all that hard and collects a big paycheck to boot). But Stella and Pullman have a thing for each other upon which they have never acted, and when Stella tells him some inside information about the real reason everyone is at the retreat, everything will come to a head. Just in time for a bunch of beaver-acting sharks to get in the way.

Never ask a bull shark for a little head...
The final major player in Dam Sharks! is Carl, played by Robert Craighead, a character actor whose career goes as far back as small parts in Cujo and Return of the Living Dead in the early '80s, but is mostly known for playing a cop for several years on The Bold and the Beautiful (but not known by me until I looked him up today). Carl is a local survivalist type who is gruff to and paranoid of all outsiders, though he has a grudging respect for Ranger Kate. After he is attacked by the sharks while fishing in his hip-waders early in the film, Carl teams up with Kate to try to blow the dams and take out the sharks. Carl's character is clearly meant to play off of Captain Quint in Jaws, and it will not be the first time that the filmmakers of Dam Sharks! will attempt to both take a cue from the classic shark film, but also try to parody it.

The problem, of course, is that Dam Sharks! never comes across as an unintentional comedy. The cast plays it mostly straight, even when Kate has to explain her theory about why the sharks are making dams. "Why do sharks do anything?," she asks. "Food!" Well, for that reason, why aren't they making like the shark in Bait and attacking a supermarket if they're so smart? Seems like easier ways to catch prey than laboriously stacking human bodies – and logs! I should mention again that there are logs in the dam pile, so sharks must have been dragging logs onto it as well – to block up a river. You know, easier ways, like... eating the bodies of the people that you have been catching. Argh!!! Why do I have to explain these things to you, sharks? I thought you were super-intelligent!

Stella kicks some major shark ass... the girl can do
wonders with an arrow and a CO2 cartridge.
For the rest of the film, Carl and Kate will cross paths with various members of the Horizon Tech team to save them from being murdered or to battle sharks on the river. Most of the employees, of course, are nothing but chum in waiting, while others – such as Stella – will prove she is a major badass with a bow and arrow. Kate, too, provides fully capable in the marksmanship category, only with a rifle instead. I should mention here that, in terms of displays of girl power, both films that have led off Sharknado Week for 2016 have the females taking control of the action for the most part (though I know this is merely a coincidence of scheduling). But there are other similarities at hand between this film and the first premiere, Atomic Shark. Both films also show early signs of males that would normally come to the fore and take the lead in battling the evil shark/sharks into submission, but then those males seem to make way for the ladies to take charge, to formulate the grand escape/destruction plans, and to carry those plans through to their conclusion. A third comparison between the two films is the use of oxygen tanks in the battle plans of their finales. For Dam Sharks!, this is a direct nod to Jaws, as both Kate and another character who comes up with the idea separately say, after other characters mention that it couldn't possibly work, "I saw it in a movie once." (I believe that the Mythbusters and others have proven pretty roundly that such a plan can't work. But who cares? It's only a shark movie.)

Check out the size of the people in comparison to
the inner tubes on which they are floating...
There all several moments in Dam Sharks! where there seems to be sizing issues with the species of sharks and the humans they are attacking. Bull sharks reach an average length of around eleven feet (max. thirteen ft.) and weigh in the area of 500 pounds. The shark that attacks Mark early in the film seems to fit him easily in its mouth, and seems like a oversized great white in comparison, which is even more ridiculous given the visual proportions of the river area that this mass of sharks is inhabiting (there are far more than a single shark swimming about in the water).

...and then the inner tubes in comparison to the
sharks which are supposed to be bigger than
the people on the inner tubes.
Even allowing for a diversity of sizes in the same species of shark due to age, this is still an over the top image. Later, when the inner-tubers take to the river, we see the trio of humans laying back on the tubes, their legs dangling over the edges of the tubes. The tubes, therefore, are not that huge. When the shot cuts to one of the bulls coming up underneath the inner tubes, that shark's size in comparison to the floating device is miniscule. This would lead us to believe that this is nothing more than a very young shark, perhaps an early juvenile. But when the next cut occurs and the same shark leaps up and snacks on the guy on the tube, he dwarfs the man, and therefore the inner tube, considerably. (And furthermore, the markings on the underwater shot of the tubes do not in any way match those seen in the above water shots.)

The sharks, for the most part, appear to be designed to at least look like a CGI artist's conception of a third hand account of a bull shark. When you go almost full computer graphics for a shark movie, you can at least avoid the old school shark mixup scenario where in a single scene you might get a snippet of tiger shark mixed with a cut to a great white and then a clip of a sand tiger or mako and then back to the tiger shark. There is a consistency of bull in Dam Sharks! – sharks or otherwise – though I will say that in a few shots from their undersides, the snouts on the bull sharks get dangerously close to goblin shark lengths. Having just dealt with a fairly atrocious prehistoric goblin shark movie recently (Malibu Shark Attack - for review, click here), this was a painful and unnecessary callback. Just sayin'...

Too bad none of these characters is an orthodontist.
Or at least Hermes the Elf...
Now, in real life, bull sharks are not known for their breaching behavior, at least not in the way that we have long known about makos, who are the kings of leaping out of the sea and into the air for short flights, and great whites, of whom we only have relatively recent knowledge (say the past couple of decades) of their true ability to do so. (This is not to say it hasn't been a standard of shark fiction for ages.) But there is little evidence of bull sharks taking part in such activity, at least to a large extent, and certainly not anything where they are jumping ten to fifteen feet in the air. In Dam Sharks! – and I have to chalk this up to sharks with some form of super-intelligence because they have clearly figured out how to damn up a river on opposite ends – the bulls can breach like nobody's business. I described the early scene where the girl is snatched midair when she leaps off the cliff. This is nothing in comparison to a scene late in the film where a bull leaps full-bodied in slow motion high over an entire raft. In a movie filled with impossible imagery, this may be the most patently ridiculous shot, but then, I haven't yet described the scene in the next paragraph.

Well, I've heard of song hooks you can't
get out of your head before, but...
Somewhere in the film, a pair of doofuses go fishing in the river. While one guy has brought the requisite rod and tackle and goes about trying to catch fish the old fashioned way, the other guy, without any previous awareness of the sharks that are swimming about around them in the river, has for some reason brought a bucket of chum. After the first guy fails over and over to get a bite, the second decides to school him and throws a giant shark-sized hook with a chunk of meat jabbed onto it attached to a thick length of chain in order to catch, in his words, "the big fish". I don't know what "big fish" he is thinking of here, but as I said, they have not heard anything about sharks at all to this point. When his bait is taken along with his entire chain, the boat is bumped and rocked. After they settle themselves, the hook comes flying back and spears the second guy right through his chin and up and out of his mouth. In seconds, he is pulled in, the other guy falls in, and they are fodder for the human dam. How is the hook thrown back at the second guy? "Super-intelligent sharks" can be the only answer. Only when they embrace human-like smarts can they begin to truly embrace their inner Jason Voorhees. You know, like real people do...


Promo that I found on Twitter
but not on Syfy's page. May have
been made by someone.
Dam Sharks! seems to have skipped the normal route of how movies, even Syfy Channel ones, are promoted. There is no real movie poster available online, there seems to have been little in the way of advertising, and there is no trailer available for viewing either. And, as I mentioned, it's entry on IMDb isn't even fully live, only in "Post-Production". Its release seems to have sneaked up on its own studio and network, which is weird since it plays so early in the Sharknado Week 2016 lineup. The film has a truly loopy concept, but has nowhere near the fun that the makers of Atomic Shark have with a similarly stupid idea. Both films never really fully explain exactly how their antagonists get into the state in which they are either ultra-radioactive or able to construct huge dams far upriver from their normal environs. Such concerns aren't really necessary to a low-budget shark flick, but at least the creature in Atomic Shark still pretty much carries on like normal. This beaver dam thing... that's pretty weird. Someone is holding out on us. We aren't getting the full story.

I hate to say it, but there needs to be a sequel. As soon as the filmmakers actually figure out what those true reasons are for the behavior of these bull sharks, I had better see that flick on Syfy... and probably will. As soon as they figure it out...

RTJ

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