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  • Rev Horror

Under Paris

Dir. Xavier Gens (2024)

A huge shark is loose in the Seine, threatening to bring death and destruction to a triathlon set to take place in the city.

I'm a sucker for shark movies, and like any sharksploitation lover, I'm generally just as down for a terrible, self-aware movie like Sharknado as I am for an all-time classic like Jaws. While the genre has far, far more of the former, as long as the filmmakers don't take themselves too seriously and provide some fun (and bloody) shark-on-human mayhem, I'm generally good to go. On the flip side, there are shark films that focus far more on the scary than the absurd, and some of them are genuinely terrifying. I talked about The Reef and it's less-than-stellar sequel a couple of years ago, and the primal fear wrought by being alone in an endless expanse of ocean with a prehistoric killing machine is so primordial that it feels like second nature. Take that same creature and place it within a confined space (like, say, a small river in the heart of a city hint hint), and it has the potential to be even more horrifying. Xavier Gens' (Frontier(s)) new film Under Paris does just that, inserting a giant Mako shark into the Seine, providing an insular film that eschews the subtlety of some of the more successful genre efforts by handling the plot with an environmentally-conscious sledgehammer.

Sophia (Bérénice Bejo) is a shark researcher who loses her entire team to an attack by an enormous Mako shark they call Lilith. Several years later, Sophia learns from an environmental activist named Mika (Léa Léviant) that Lilith has entered the Seine, a river running right through the heart of Paris. The city is gearing up to host Olympic events, including a triathlon with hundreds of swimmers who will be entering the river as part of the competition. Between governmental incompetence and a shark with a biological drive to survive, the entire city of Paris (or at least anyone within who feels like swimming) comes under fire from one of nature's most dangerous and lethal predators.

Taking a page from the mayoral ineptitude of Jaws and the high-horsed environmental messaging of Ferngully, Under Paris seeks to provide an action/thriller shark flick that combines digitally-enhanced shark effects with some gorgeous nature photography to create a shark movie for the modern age. And it largely succeeds in its goals: despite a heavy-handed environmental message that beats its audience over the head repeatedly, it's nevertheless an important one for anyone who cares about the oceanic biome and the devastation that man has wrought. It's preachy but important, and it's devastating to think that many of the things the film warns about are already happening around the world. It's also not difficult to imagine something exactly like this occuring in the future. After all, the obnoxiously irresponsible Amity Island mayor feels more and more real every day.

Unfortunately, despite the film's good intentions, it somehow manages to become largely boring despite a rapidly escalating body count. The effects aren't terrible for the most part, and the sharks themselves are pretty rad. There's just so much of the film where nothing happens, large swaths of the runtime that are much more focused on environmental evangelization than on shark-fueled slaughter. It's a good concept, the idea that sharks could be swimming right beneath you in places you would never expect. It also does a decent, if overwrought, job of explaining why the sharks do end up in the Seine, as well as how they're surviving in a place they normally wouldn't. It just never really lives up to its premise, failing to contain enough action to be an action movie and never becoming thrilling enough to be a thriller. And unless you're particularly afraid of sharks, it's likely not to find its mark as a horror film either.

As someone who will watch pretty much any sharksploitation film, it's still definitely worth checking out for fans of the genre. It's not ground-breaking, nor is it a particularly good effort even for a genre filled with stinkers. It's a large-budget shark movie that spends most of its money on digital effects, but they're used so infrequently as to make the film largely a bore. Under Paris is bound to be a largely forgettable action film that never finds its footing, and despite its incessant ecological preaching ends up portraying the sharks as modified monsters that maybe deserve to be caught up in trash nets. It's difficult to make your audience feel bad about not recycling when these are the types of creatures that we don't want swimming loose anyway. There are some pretty badass scenes, however, though even these are often laughably ridiculous, most notably during a scene in which dozens of researchers and police are trapped in a tunnel with a gaggle of sharks and the people just cannot seem to stop falling into the water, a running theme throughout most of the film. If you're a shark movie fan, you'll definitely want to check this one out. Just don't expect to find anything that particularly improves the genre.

Who this movie is for: Sharksploitation fans, Action/horror lovers, Strong swimmers

Bottom line: Under Paris is an enormously budgeted action/thriller that is equal parts The Meg and An Inconvenient Truth. It's an unsubtle indictment on our treatment of the oceans while also making an argument that perhaps we're better off if all these creatures are dead. Director Xavier Gens tries to go as big as possible, but largely forsakes the scares for CGI shark attacks. It's loud, ridiculous, and gaudy, and save a few entertaining scenes is largely forgettable. It's streaming now on Netflix, and if you're a shark-aholic, you'll definitely want to check it out. Just don't expect to find a movie you want to revisit again.

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