The Black Demon is an uneven megalodon thriller that gets caught in the undertow of a lengthy run time, a questionable twist and a lack of genuine thrills.
Paul Struges (Josh Lucas, The Forever Purge) and his wife, Ines (Fernanda Urrejola, Cry Macho), decide it’s time to familiarize their children, Audrey (Venus Ariel, DMZ) and Chocolatito (Héctor Jiménez), with their heritage so it’s off to Baja for a work/vacation.
Paul is a safety inspector for an oil company that wants him to check on the big rig stationed near Baja.
Despite marrying a Latinx woman, Paul slides into the ugly American role a little too easily. He hasn’t bothered to learn Spanish, comes off as condescending to the Baja residents and completely dismissive of their beliefs.
Lucas gives Paul a slightly smarmy edge while still checking all the main character boxes.
Maybe if Paul were a tad more open-minded, he’d notice the apprehension and disdain many of the locals have for him and their reluctance to go anywhere near the rig.
When Paul arrives, it’s only manned by two guys — Chato (Julio Cesar Cedillo, Sicario) and Junior (Jorge A. Jimenez, Machete Kills).
This slim crew doesn’t exactly allow for much megalodon fodder since these kinds of films typically don’t have women and children getting mauled and dismembered. That leaves the film with exactly three more potential victims for the rest of its nearly two hour run time.
It’s hard to drum up much suspense and tension when so many characters are untouchable. Then there’s the matter of factoring in the terrible optics of the two Latinx dudes getting killed to help the white guy survive with his family and the film feels forced into a narrative corner.
Screenwriter Boise Esquerra comes up with a perfectly valid reason why Ines would ignore Paul’s wishes and bring the family to the rig. They barely make it on before their first encounter with The Black Demon.
Director Adrian Grünberg clearly enjoyed the megalodon stalking/devouring scenes with some fun POV perspectives like an inside the mouth shot paired with a methodical yet hardly dull build-up to the big bite/engulfing. The big Black Demon reveal is impressive and raises serious questions about the characters’ survival odds.
Grünberg has a solid handle on setting the tension and milking the anxiety out of those nervous, pulse pounding moments. The film really would have benefitted from three of four other crew members to set up some other victims that could get killed off at random intervals.
Performances are all solid with Cedillo and Urrejola in particular standing out. It helps that Chato isn’t playing the cryptic local speaking in cliches and being intentionally mysterious. He’s got a well-rounded personality and Cedillo fleshes him out further. Urrejola makes Ines more formidable and less “what are we going to do, brave strong husband?” than shown in some of these imminent disaster films.
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Director of Photography Antonio Riestr crafts some very impressive underwater scenes from the illumination of the various fish swimming around characters to the menacing shadow of the megladon going into the deep makes for a breathtaking experience.
Midway through Esquerra leans a little heavier into the theme of man’s disrespect for nature and how that brought The Black Demon out. Maybe this would have more impact if it felt like more characters other than Paul in some way disregarded the environment as it kind of comes off like narratively beating up on the ‘gringo’ at some point.
There are also some traces of supernatural horror in the film with characters seeing hallucinations. They’re not done to the degree to be interesting and are just random visuals. Just one time having the hallucinations lead to a character death would have paid them off.
There’s a twist in the final act that answers some lingering questions. By this point in the film, the big reveal doesn’t matter as much beyond setting up an avenue for a Hail Mary plan that doesn’t feel entirely necessary.
The Black Demon bites off a bit too much plot wise without satisfyingly tying everything together leading to an ending that comes off flat and doesn’t land like the filmmakers intended.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Photo Credit: The Avenue