According to the Internet, schlock director Donald Farmer has dedicated fans. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around that after watching Farmer’s latest release, a CG-plagued digital horror about a demonically-possessed shark. Shark Exorcist is a dirt cheap production, a winking, lazy B-picture that can’t even clear the low bar set by SyFy Channel mockbusters like Cowboys vs Dinosaurs and Lavalantula. It’s a shame, too, because the idea of Satan possessing a shark in a cheap slice of modern schlock was obviously enough of a hook to grab my attention, but the film has very little interest in following through on the potential of its own premise. Much like the carnie-esque film promoters of old, Donald Farmer seems like the kind of director who promises the world in his posters & trailers, but doesn’t care about actually delivering the goods once the tickets are sold.
A Satanic nun stabs an accuser to death near an urban lake & disposes of the body. She pleads to the water, “Lord Satan, accept my sacrifice! Send me an avenger.” Satan, the kindly obliging Lord that He is, answers her prayer in the form of a shark, or a red-tinted CG rendering of a shark. A year later a group of young girls are enjoying summertime leisure at the same lake, planning to “swim, work on your tan, just lake stuff.” One girl is bitten on the leg by the demon shark, naturally, and becomes possessed with its Satanic spirit. She freaks her friends out with her rapid recovery from the bite, sudden obsession with water, and (not least of all) serial murders using a vampiric set of shark’s teeth. A Catholic priest catches wind of the strange happenings of the demonic shark girl and makes it a personal mission to exorcise her body of the evil spirit. This lazy hybrid of The Exorcist & Jaws finally culminates with its natural conclusion, a reading of the line “We’re going to need a bigger cross!,” revealing the entire production to be a long setup to an empty punchline.
Normally, I would be all over a film with that exact plot, but Shark Exorcist is dedicated to a distinct lack of effort that makes the whole ordeal frustrating when it should be cheap fun. The bargain basement digital photography & soft core porn quality acting recall the midnight crowd favorite Birdemic, but without that film’s authentic, if misguided, sincerity. Characters in Shark Exorcist use smart phones that could easily make a higher quality picture than the one delivered (just look to last year’s Tangerine for proof). Local news reports & a reality television spoof called Ghostwalkers have a kind of Tim & Eric quality to their awkwardness in passing, but become frustratingly dull after long stretches. If this were a home movie or a high school project I might be able to give it a pass. I might even think it was kind of cute. As a production from an adult director who apparently has been making cult-minded schlock for decades, it registers as a lazy annoyance. The move is only 70 minutes long, but I got everything I could out of it in the first ten, which is not a great sign.
Still, because the premise is so damn silly, I could have forgiven all of Shark Exorcist’s sins if it had just delivered one simple thing: shark attacks. That’s all I ask. There are gallons of (embarrassingly unconvincing) blood in the film, but no true gore. After a shark bite the blood rests on the victims’ skin, with no attempt to give the illusion of a wound. Worse yet, there is not a single frame in Shark Exorcist where the demonic shark or its unsuspecting victim share the screen. The shark swims in a CG void and prepares to chomp. The victim, above water, screams. We then see their lifeless body, no point of contact depicted & no evidence of a wound.
I’m honestly curious about Donald Farmer’s career at this point, almost enough to double back and watch titles like Chainsaw Cheerleaders, Cannibal Hookers, and Vampire Cop. Surely as a man who’s been making B-pictures for decades he knows that a film this cheap needs to deliver the goods in term of gore or sex or something in order to make the price of admission worthwhile to his audience. The impression I get after watching Shark Exorcist is that he does, but he also doesn’t give a shit, which is a shame given the promise in this film’s premise. This is the rare case where a film might’ve actually benefited had its creator sold their idea to SyFy instead of making it themselves.