At last! A bad shark movie by women, for women!

Don’t be fooled into thinking there might be something more to Something in the Water than its typical shark schlock set-up would have you believe. Its release into cinemas rather than straight-to-SyFy channel might make you think otherwise, but there isn’t. What’s in the water is exactly what you expect: an eminently edible cast and a hungry bull shark or two.

One year after nearly dying in a horrific homophobic assault (which the movie unflinchingly shows you in the first few minutes), a still-traumatised Meg (Hiftu Quasem) flies out to the West Indies to join her friends Lizzie (Lauren Lyle), Cam (Nicole Rieko Setsuko), and Ruth (Ellouise Shakespeare-Hart) for Lizzie’s destination wedding. Things get tense when Meg is greeted at the airport by Kayla (Natalie Mitson), her ex-girlfriend whose actions provoked the attack in the first place. Despite the awkward reunion, the five embark on a hen party outing on a borrowed, rickety skiff, heading to a remote tropical island. Disaster strikes when Ruth is bitten by a shark in the shallows, and in the panic to get help, their boat is holed by a coral reef and sinks, leaving them adrift with one lifejacket and a non-swimmer bride-to-be.

The film’s London-set opening feels oddly out of place for a sharksploitation flick, with regionally diverse accents that hop from London to Aberdeen via Manchester as if the casting director was on a Cross-Country train while finishing off her work. The inclusion of Nicole Rieko Setsuko as the token yank adds a touch of international appeal, but the genuinely harrowing homophobic hate crime that opens the movie sets an atonal contrast to the rest of the film. While it clumsily establishes elements of Meg’s character (that will go largely unexplored), it raises more questions than it answers, like why the multicultural gang of girl-bigots attacked Meg while Kayla, who provoked them, escapes unscathed. Perhaps the real monster in this shark movie is Great White privilege?

Something in the Water is a shark movie by women, for women, or at least it feels like that might have been part of the creative calculus of its creation. There’s a lukewarm attempt to generate a little bit of a Mamma Mia! meets Bridesmaids meets Jaws atmosphere although what actually makes it to screen comes off more like Open Water meets Loose Women or, being charitable, Sex and the Shitty [Shark Movie].

It takes a while for the titular something to actually make an appearance but twenty-five minutes in, after the movie treats us to its spin on Ex On The Beach, we’re finally off and running or, well, bleeding. The bite effects are pretty good, too although whatever draws first blood must be a good deal smaller than the bull sharks which relentlessly (and, as is typical for these movies) inexplicably pursue the girls as they try to make it to safety.

From the moment crisis strikes, the band of BFFs rapidly descend into bickering, offering more irritating noise than heartfelt emotional stakes. Our supposedly traumatised heroine, Meg, makes an abrupt U-turn to stalwart leadership amidst chaos, a jarring shift with no real development in between. Most characters are too self-absorbed and annoying to let the existential terror actually take hold and while predictable deaths ensue, there’s one out-of-character, unprompted sacrifice that just feels absurd.

It’s not all terrible, though. The film looks lovely and the attention to details like the progressively severe sunburn on the dwindling band of survivors is commendable. Many shark movies of this type tend towards piscine parsimony because sharks are expensive to show and their budget won’t cover it. This doesn’t ever feel like a cheap film even if it doesn’t show the shark often enough, especially as the interpersonal squabbles don’t do enough to carry the drama in between the attacks and even when those attacks do come, they’re quite coy when it comes to showing the shark, preferring to offer a masterclass of red filters, bubbles and shaky cam.

While the performances range from poor to passable, Hiftu Quasem deserves recognition, holding this nonsense together with a performance that lends her underwritten trauma healing arc some much-needed credibility and authenticity. Her Meg (geddit?) is the only thing that’ll linger in the mind after watching (excepting, perhaps, that horrific opening attack) and, if nothing else, you’ve got to appreciate her gutsiest moment when she punches the shark in the face.

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