Found-footage movies and creature features don’t always exactly see eye-to-eye, but blending the two together provides some fairly exciting, if forever wobbly results for this low-rent survival horror.
Ever since Sharknado first spread its ridiculously unwatchable (but apparently very popular) fins a couple of years back now, the shark horror sub-genre has been something of a mess. The very same trend that birthed the likes of The Reef, Open Water and Jaws is now (ignoring last year’s surprising hit The Shallows) mostly awash with no-budget failures like Jurassic Shark and Shark Exorcist that base their entire production around a killer title, and literally nothing else.
Cage Dive isn’t exactly the most original of the bunch, nor is it anywhere near the best, but there’s definite substance here beyond a deceptive title or lowly special effects budget. Essentially pegged as a found-footage spin on (the slightly superior) Open Water, three divers find themselves bobbing around directionless off the shores of Australia after their, surprise surprise – cage diving expedition goes awry.
There’s a whole lot more preamble than usual, tossing a central love triangle and some extra character drama into the mix which, although not entirely needed, does liven things up a bit. And to be fair to first-time director Gerald Rascionato, he gets the sharks spot on.
No messy CG or dodgy cropped footage from nature documentaries here; it all feels very real, very lived in and for the most part, very terrifying. Those who often find themselves a little queasy with the standard shakiness of POV won’t find much solace here thanks to some seriously wobbly waves, but if you can keep your head screwed on just long enough, the found-footage element feels weirdly welcome too.
Obviously again, there’s the classic pratfalls of reasoning just as there is in any cheap-o found-footage flick. Multiple characters scream “we have to film everything” and quite literally risk their own lives just to get a shot, which as usual, feels very silly, and the drawn-out set-up, mostly surrounding the trio making an audition tape for an extreme sports reality show, really doesn’t sit well at all. But the head-on experience of feeling like you’re actually surrounded by lurking sharks is second to none.
There’s no denying that Cage Dive has its share of sensationally stupid moments too though. One in particular involving a flair that opens up the third act of the film, feels wildly unreal, and when measured up against some other key twists, it’s clear that there’s not much brainpower behind a lot of the actions.
But to be honest, it’s a shark movie; intelligence isn’t exactly key. The fact that there’s plenty of well-shot and genuinely thrilling great white attacks should satisfy the large majority and, although the central three themselves are far from ever being particularly likeable, their fears and pleas for survival consistently feel authentic enough to buy into.
It’s certainly no Jaws, struggling to meet even the likes of The Reef in watchability, but Cage Dive has just enough care and precision poured into it to make for an exciting enough 80 minutes.
Choose this over Sharknado any day.
Cage Dive was screened as part of HorrorChannel FrightFest Glasgow 2017 but currently has no UK release scheduled.