The Black Demon opens with a scroll outlining its mythical namesake, suggesting that the film is more than a simple creature feature.
The Black Demon is a film steeped in curses, environmentalism and corporate greed. On one hand, the megalodon that gives the film its name is a manifestation of these ideas; it is the avenging angel for the people who have been sacrificed in the name of profit. If The Black Demon truly wanted to engage in such lofty ideas, however, it might have worked better as a supernatural film.
On the other hand, it’s a creature feature with a really big shark that seemingly has a vendetta against a handful of people stranded on an oil rig off the Baja coast. If The Black Demon truly wanted to engage with its B-movie predecessors, however, it needed to be more fun.
As it is, the film is an unsuccessful combination of the two:
- It’s a heavy-handed, on the nose critique of the damaging effects of oil rigs on the environment, as well as white capitalism and vulnerable brown bodies.
- It’s a giant shark movie with not enough shark.
The inability to commit to either area of interest, combined with shockingly inept dialogue, bland characters, and repetitive narrative developments means that the film’s only true success is being a misguided dud.
One significant problem is the screenplay by writers Carlos Cisco and Boise Esquerra. It’s clear mere minutes into the film’s (exceedingly long feeling) one hour and forty minute runtime that family man Paul Sturges (Josh Lucas) is *definitely* a corporate stooge who is responsible for the poor conditions on the El Diamante rig.
Sturges is there to sign off on the safety of the rig and, in an ill-advised move, he has brought his family along as a kind of joint work/family trip. When he and wife Ines (Fernanda Urrejola) and their two kids – teen daughter Audrey (Venus Ariel) and booksmart Tommy (Carlos Solórzano) – arrive, they discover the once picturesque town has fallen on hard times, the docks are empty, and the locals are more than a little hostile to gringos like Paul.
Shortly after highlighting a giant shrine to the local water god Tlaloc to cue the audience that there’s something religious and/or nefarious afloat, the whole family winds up stranded on the oil rig which is falling apart, sparsely populated, disconnected from the mainland, and patrolled by the giant shark.
None of this is a surprise because virtually everything in The Black Demon is telegraphed to the audience well before it plays out on the screen. Take, for example, the opening of the film: a pair of men setting up Checkov’s bomb underneath the rig become chum, leaving the explosive device to tick down to its imminent last act explosion.
The fact that so much of the plot, and the few deaths the film contains, are telegraphed far in advance wouldn’t be a deal breaker if the film had anything else to offer.
What the film has in spades is family drama and manufactured conflict, with the exceedingly grating Paul at the center of it all. He butts heads with the rig’s two remaining employees Chato (Julio Cesar Cedillo) and Junior (Jorge A. Jimenez) over everything, even when the food, electricity and structural integrity of the rig becomes dire. The bitching between Paul, the men, and Ines, who begs Paul to listen to their superstitious talk about Tlaloc, is both repetitive and obvious (the audience is *always* more aware than the characters and Paul’s comeuppance isn’t satisfying enough to suffer through).
This does, however, lead to gems like Chato mocking Paul’s “expensive” burgundy shirt and, in the film’s most laughable exchange, Ines yelling at Paul: “You are the monster, not that thing out there!”
So the family stuff is dull and the ending is predictable, but what about the shark action?
Well, unfortunately there’s simply not enough of it. The opening scene feels like a subpar take on Deep Blue Sea, though credit is due: when the megalodon makes its screen debut by snapping a boat in two high in the air, the effect is impressive.
There are several underwater cat and mouse sequences later that aren’t terrible, but considering what we’ve seen the megalodon do earlier, it makes no sense when characters are safe right next to the water or can hide underwater in a frail exposed structure. By the film’s own internal logic, this creature would have no trouble gobbling them up.
The Bottom Line: The Black Demon is too long and too predictable. With tin-eared dialogue, grating characters, and an on-the-nose message that will make even environmentalists groan, it’s worth refusing this trip down South. 1/5
The Black Demon is in theaters April 28