The Black Demon Movie Review

Written by Kat Albrecht

Released by The Avenue Entertainment

the black demon poster large

Directed by Adrian Grunberg
Written by Carlos Cisco and Boise Esquerra
2023, 100 minutes, Rated R
Released on April 28th, 2023

Starring:
Josh Lucas as Paul Sturges
Fernanda Urrejola as Ines
Venus Ariel as Audrey
Carlos Solórzano as Tommy

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Review:

The Black Demon is a three-star movie – and it’s a painful three stars because it should have been a four-star movie. Director Adrian Grunberg’s shark spectacular has some good ingredients: a cast of great talent, a visually striking set, and a big ass shark. Unfortunately, it also over-focuses on the most boring character in the movie and as a consequence shortchanges the lore and the shark itself.

We meet the Sturges en route to a family vacation/work trip for husband Paul Sturges, an oil rig safety inspector. Upon their arrival, they are greeted by a poverty-stricken and desolate town where a cheerful seaside tourist haven should have been. Despite the obvious danger, Paul ditches his family at a sketchy restaurant and heads out toward the oil rig where he is shocked to find that things aren’t great. And by not great I mean a supersized demon megalodon ate almost everyone. Over the course of the film, we see Paul’s family, the remaining oil workers, and an excellent chihuahua fight for their lives.

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Ever the fount of positivity, I’ll start with what I liked about the film, and there’s a lot to like. The production values and shot work are really strong. The scenery is nice and some of the actors bring a lot to the table. Fernanda Urrejola is particularly convincing as Paul’s wife Ines, and carries a lot of the emotional weight of the film. Chato (Julio Cesar Cedillo) and Junior (Jorge A. Jimenez) add some much-needed likeability to the film in their roles as the surviving oil rig workers. The shark also is acceptably aesthetic, which is a nice feature for folks who find themselves frustrated with the usual shark movie CGI.

Where I am disappointed though is with the amount of shark. There isn’t much. The shark really only kills one person in a cool way, and it happens quite early, lulling viewers into a false sense of security that we are definitely going to see a megalodon eat 10,000 people. Now, some might argue that the limited shark sightings build suspense and make the shark more frightening by virtue of not being seen too often. I hear what you’re saying, but you’re wrong. There is not actually much suspense around the shark itself and the mythology around Tlaloc is underdeveloped. There are some hints of mysticism and magical happenings, but the film does not focus on them enough.

Instead, it focuses on Paul Sturges, but what the movie forgets is that I don’t give two shits about Paul Sturges. Paul honestly sucks. He’s culturally ignorant, rude to his wife, and is consistently criminally negligent for his own financial gain. He isn’t particularly helpful throughout the film and then yells at everyone else. From this description, you might think he winds up being the real villain, but he somehow ends up with a totally undeserved hero edit.

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The environmental messaging throughout the movie is heavy-handed, which some won’t appreciate. It didn’t bother me much outside of finding some of it to be cheesy. Given my druthers, I would have preferred to see the lore and legends woven more thoroughly into the film as a means of demonstrating environmental themes. But as it stands, it would be really hard to leave the theater not understanding that The Black Demon is environmental commentary, so mission accomplished there.

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What I found more distracting is a stretch of scenes that almost seemed to be cut in the wrong order. Paul is going from conversation to conversation having complete mood switches: from yelling and screaming to being calm and rational. It doesn’t read as a character choice and feels more like a failed attempt at emotional character development. In general, the Paul-takes-responsibility character catharsis just doesn’t work. Near the end of the movie, the silliest thing happens. We actually have to endure Paul “my entire personality is my watch and a red polo shirt” Sturges giving an extended hero monologue. I’ve never rooted harder for someone to be eaten by a shark immediately. I would like to formally apologize to other shark movie characters I’ve previously critiqued: I should have saved all my disdain for Paul Sturges. All this to say, the film did a great job of making me hate Paul, it just failed to convince me he was redeemed.

In general, fans of other theatrically released shark movies might enjoy this film. You should go in knowing that it is substantially more serious and less sharky than 2018’s The Meg. Take a moment to appreciate some of the supporting characters and take in the beautiful views. Overall though, The Black Demon needs more shark, more legend, and less Paul Sturges.

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Grades:

Movie: 3 Star Rating Cover
Cover

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Kat Albrecht
Staff Reviewer
Kat Albrecht is a legally trained sociologist and computational social scientist studying how complex data can inform policy, with particular emphasis on the nexus of fear, criminal data, and the law. In other words, she’s a college professor who studies horror films sometimes. Her research specialties are practical special effects, creature features, and arguing about the meaning of genre. Kat will gleefully review any film that takes place in the ocean or in outer space and exclusively paints portraits of herself.
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