Mako turns the Red Sea red

Despite its branding-friendly moniker, the Mako shark has long been runner-up in the shark movie stakes to its more illustrious cousins the Great White and the Bull Shark despite its notability as the fastest shark in the ocean and its fearsome mouthful of particularly pointy teeth. Unfortunately, Mako is unlikely to be the big break for isurus oxyrinchus as while it plunges into deep water, both literally and figuratively, blending historical tragedy with an aquatic thriller it doesn’t really sink its teeth into either.

Directed by Mohamed Hesham El-Rashidy, the film draws inspiration from the tragic sinking of the Salem Express in 1991, which claimed over 400 lives. Mako (2021) is an Egyptian thriller inspired by the true story of the Salem Express, a ship that tragically sank in the Red Sea in 1991. The film attempts to blend historical events with a suspenseful, shark-infested thriller, told in wraparound style as documentary director Rana Bahgat (Basma) accepts an award for the finished film.

Rana’s team, which includes seasoned diver Murad (Nicolas Mouawad) and several other crew members, embarks on an expedition to document the wreckage of the Salem Express. Their goal is to capture the haunting history and the human stories associated with the sunken vessel but as the team dives toward the wreck, they are initially captivated by the eerie beauty of the underwater site until their exploration takes a terrifying turn when Murad is viciously attacked and killed by a giant mako shark and they are forced to seek refuge within the confines of the sunken ship. Inside the wreck, the situation goes from bad to worse as they struggle to contact the surface for help, and internal tensions begin to fray the group’s unity. As the situation worsens, the dive crews’ differing motivations start to bubble to the surface.

It has to be said, the underwater cinematography in Mako is pretty great. The Red Sea’s aquatic beauty is captured in stunning detail, providing an immersive experience that really places you in the abyss. The film’s historical context adds a certain depth to the narrative, making it more than just a typical shark potboiler and overall, it marks a significant milestone for Egyptian cinema, showcasing the potential for future high concept genre productions.

Yet, despite its visual appeal, Mako struggles with a disjointed chum bucket of narrative elements that, while rich with potential, end up getting tangled in each other like a particularly recalcitrant fishing net. The plot often feels muddled, with poorly developed characters and confusingly multi-faceted motivations that don’t get the exploration or exposition they need. The performances, although the film features well-known Egyptian actors, feel shallow and certainly not enough to overcome the script issues which much like a diver’s faulty gear, leaves the cast struggling for air, unable to reach the required storytelling depth.

Mako brings a fresh and unique cultural perspective to shark movies but in the end its perhaps a little too rooted in Egyptian melodramatic conventions to fully embrace the sharksploitation genre and a little too ambitious for its own good. Much like a shark circling its prey out of curiosity, without striking, it ultimately lacks bite.

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