[FrightFest 2020 Review] 'Sky Sharks' is a Visual Feast of Complete and Utter Absurdity
For better or worse, there is an expectation that comes with sitting down to watch a film with Nazi zombies...
...Horror has toyed with the concept time and again, and you’d think it might be stale by now, but the ridiculous amalgam always pulls a devious smile out of me. That said, it’s hard to ignore the been there, done that feeling with these violent, tongue-in-cheek films. Director/creator Marc Fehse attempts to bring something new to the Nazi zombie formula with Sky Sharks (written with A.D Morel and Carsten Fehse), making its UK premiere at this year’s FrightFest Film Festival. That’s right: Nazi zombies and sharks. I absolutely love the sharp finned beasts, and never miss my beloved Shark Week, so I was more than happy to give Sky Sharks its fair day in my movie court. The inclusion of sharks may be enough to get me on board, but this hyper stylized horror outing leaves a bit to be desired under the surface.
Sky Sharks sets its tale in the icy Antarctic, where a small group of mercenaries discover a hidden Nazi experimentation complex. Deep within the lair, genetic experiments were conducted on sharks and undead soldiers, eventually fusing the two together to create weaponized, flying sharks. These “sky sharks” are manned by the undead Nazi soldiers, with the sole purpose of furthering destruction and world domination. To stop the growing threat, highly trained sisters, Diabla (Eva Habermann) and Angelique (Barbara Nedeljakova), and their father, Dr. Klaus Richter (Thomas Morris) must deploy a secret weapon of their own.
While it’s true not every film needs to have a wealth of substance—some of my favorite films are loved for their visual fidelity alone—what most do need, regardless of genre, is consistency, flow, and, if we’re lucky, interesting characters. Sky Sharks struggles with these elements in a big way. The favoring of visual spectacle over substance isn’t necessarily what bothers me here, though. Rather, it’s the lack of actual scenes that move the story forward or introduce who these characters are. It’s a shame, too, because had they been fleshed out just a little, this could be a fun franchise with potentially high fandom. Nearly every segment starts and ends with action-oriented montages reminiscent of a music video, complete with edgy pop tunes to accompany them. Characters rarely have actual conversations with each other and when they do, it’s through high tech face cams and monitors. Much of the supporting cast, including Tony Todd as Major General Frost, are only shown this way, and it establishes an awkward, disconnected feeling. The story does call for international communication, but there could have been more person to person interaction. The only scenes that tapped into naturalistic story and character development were a series of flashbacks chronicling Dr. Klaus Richter’s war torn past. Aside from that, all of the choppy, exposition-heavy face cam conversations and music video inspired montages amount to a disjointed and directionally manic story.
With a film spearheading with sharks and Nazi zombies, you know it at least has a sense of humor about itself. Unfortunately, many of the gags and jokes fall flat. If watching a drunk Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa make inappropriate advances to an airline stewardess is comedic gold to you, then Sky Sharks has you covered. Most of the gags hover around that kind of crude territory or involve gratuitous nudity for its own sake. I did find much of the violence irresistibly funny, however. The very sight of a fleet of Nazi zombie mounted sharks soaring through the skies in perfect formation easily had me laughing. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds, and as I said earlier, it’s hard for Nazi zombie anything to lose all of its charm. It’s just too damn fun and ridiculous to hate.
Sky Sharks might be a disastrous mess of a film in terms of structure and consistency, but it’s a drop-dead gorgeous mess. I see a lot of films with hefty art departments utilizing the best visual effects houses, but few impress me the way Sky Sharks did. It left such a visual mark on me that I immediately set up a second viewing, partially so I could freeze frame some of the incredible computer-generated sets. The colossal Nazi complex was the standout for me, with its densely populated hangars of sky sharks stretching deep within the Antarctic caverns. Mechanical cranes gracefully lifted and maneuvered the finned metallic war machines to various stations, deservedly showing off the attention to design and detail. None of this, of course, looks “real”, but it’s not supposed to. The heavy use of green screen and digitally created sets fit the film’s aesthetic. There are also some creatively executed actual set pieces, such as one involving a 747 airliner being surrounded by a fleet of sky sharks. A cable is speared from one shark, through the body of the plane, then latches onto the adjacent shark. I won’t spoil it, but I’ll just say what comes next is highly reminiscent of a very memorable scene from Ghost Ship (2002). There’s never a moment that tops that, but a few come close, and they are all a joy to watch. Nearly every frame of the film had something interesting going on in the visual department and judging by the long crawl of credits it’s clear that visually, this was no small feat.
To determine whether Sky Sharks is worth your time or not greatly depends on your tolerance of poor narrative structure and a near complete lack of characterization. This is a visual feast, and as a fan of visual effects with an appreciation for art departments, I was able to overlook the film’s flaws. At its core this is a feature length ultra-violent music video. While it certainly has its narrative and structural flaws, it is an unmissable entry for fans of visual effects and art design.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth
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