The Black Demon, 2023.
Directed by Adrian Grunberg.
Starring Josh Lucas, Fernanda Urrejola, Julio Cedillo, Venus Ariel, Carlos Solórzano, Jorge A. Jimenez, Raúl Méndez, and Héctor Jiménez.
Oilman Paul Sturges’ idyllic family vacation turns into a nightmare when they encounter a ferocious megalodon shark that will stop at nothing to protect its territory.
It’s unclear whether director Adrian Grunberg wants to make a shark movie, a stranded-at-sea supernatural thriller, an ecological message story stemming from oil corporation greed, a crash course in Aztec water God mythology, or a family drama with The Black Demon. He probably doesn’t know, nor does screenwriter Boise Esquerra (writing from a story by Carlos Cisco). One thing that’s for sure is that the budget simply doesn’t allow for a full-on shark attack movie set on a ruined oil rig set to be decommissioned, more concerned with executive business drama and rising family tension over the megalodon.
Watching The Black Demon is a baffling exercise, considering that while the shark is important to the narrative and why the characters are stuck in a perilous situation, the filmmakers unquestionably care more about hammering home a point about water pollution and blunt carelessness from oil executives. Paul Sturges (a woefully bad Josh Lucas, who delivers some of his more intense dialogue like he’s performing a wrestling promo) is a family man using an upcoming oriole rig inspection to take his wife Ines (Fernanda Urrejola) and children Tommy and Audrey (Carlos Solórzano and Venus Ariel) to Baja for a vacation.
Immediately, things don’t seem right, as the area seems mostly abandoned by locals, with no one particularly comfortable bringing Paul to the oil rig by boat no matter how much extra cash he throws at them (his go-to solution to every issue, being a wealthy executive). The wife and kids are left behind, with Tommy conveniently researching Aztec God Tialoc and how the mythology could correlate to a rainwater curse. Meanwhile, a group of men harasses Ines and Audrey in a somewhat out-of-place sequence that forces them to run off and commandeer a boat so they can meet up with Paul, who is now joined by the only remaining rig crew members Chato and Junior (Julio Cesar Cedillo and Jorge A. Jimenez).
After an initial brief scene of destruction doing its damnedest to hide the shoddy shark CGI (from a filmmaking perspective, why would you cause characters to hallucinate things when you can’t even get the look of the shark right?), The Black Demon becomes fairly talky and far too invested in corporate politics, ecological statements, and family feuding that quite literally comes into the plot from nowhere when roughly halfway into the running time, Audrey randomly mentions that mom and dad have been fighting a lot. Not only other lame revelations about Paul’s part in the morally bankrupt oil business, but the filmmakers also transition the story into an overly serious lesson learned for a rich white man. Matters are not helped by lousy performances and kids that often bicker in unnatural ways.
None of this is to say that The Black Demon is a terrible movie because of its narrative deceptiveness, but more so that the filmmakers fail at fleshing out any of these ideas and subjects. It’s as if everything from the shark, the Aztec mythology, and human drama was stuffed into an ecological story without considering how those elements would connect. And none of it is worth sticking around for 85-ish minutes for an overdramatic finale that is more hilarious than exciting. The message is worthwhile but needs to be wrapped around a compelling or fun experience, which The Black Demon struggles to provide.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com