[SPOILER ALERT] Sympathy, Said the Shark [SPOILER ALERT]
It’s day twelve of the Horror Movie Marathon! Apologies for the lateness of my post! We’ve chosen this movie based on the interesting title. Since it’s not clear whether this movie is actually horror, we spend some time discussing the difference between horror and thrillers.
Sympathy, Said the Shark is not rated and is available on Hulu . At the time of our viewing, it has the following online ratings:
Rotten Tomatoes N/A% critics, N/A% audience
It’s a bright sunshiny day, not at all scary, except for an eerie mist that is rising off the river. We both take notes throughout the movie. Afterward, we conduct a simultaneous interview/discussion via Google Docs.
Mikey: Well, it was bound to happen – I picked something labeled “Thriller” and it was not horror. I’m not surprised at all. I was very concerned that it might be, but I went with it for two reasons: I couldn’t resist the title, and there was an IMDB review that said “I would recommend this movie to anybody who likes spooky movies”. I don’t know why they said that! How did you feel about the title?
Solee: It’s a great title. It is vague and weird but there’s a depth of meaning possible with it. Great title. I’m not sure I completely understand how it relates to the movie just yet… but I think it works.
I think we should talk a second about the difference between horror and thriller. We discussed it before starting the movie, but I don’t feel like we really settled on anything. Is it like pornography: you know it when you see it?
Mikey: I was having a hard time with that question before the movie too. I mean, by the end of this movie we both agreed it was not horror, on the spot. Very easy to tell. It’s easy to know something is horror if it has ghosts or zombies. But if it’s just people, there’s a real fine line there.
Solee: Like Kill List or The Invitation… they both fit the horror genre. Well, Kill List, obviously. But The Invitation could have easily ended up just a thriller, but they managed to tip it into horror. What’s the difference between that and Sympathy, Said the Shark?
Mikey: I actually think The Invitation crossed the line very late – right when the murdering started. Now, there’s definitely murdering in thrillers, lots of it. But … man, it’s hard to say. I was gonna say someone stalking and killing a bunch of people in a locked room, but you could so have that in something like Seven or those kind of serial killer thrillers. I guess it really is how it’s presented, the feel. Jump scares? But you don’t need jump scares, there weren’t any in The Invitation. It’s music, camera technique… it’s the intent of the director, conveyed via cultural cues we all recognize.
Solee: Woah. That’s a pretty collegiate answer! 🙂 I think you’re right, though. There’s a lot of elements that go into establishing genre beyond the acting and screenwriting. Is Se7en (ha! Did that just to drive you crazy!) not a horror film?
Mikey: I graduated collegium! Ugh, numbers for letters. SeVen is … I’m gonna look at IMDB. Argh, they list it as Se7en.
Mikey: Which is pronounced “Sezen” by the way.
Mikey: It’s “Crime, Drama, Mystery”. Which is true, it’s not horror. It has these horrific scenes like the bloated body at the table and stuff, yet it’s not horror. Definitely closing in on that line for sure. But it’s funny because Saw and SeVen are practically matching in terms of style and visuals, and in terms of ‘crazy guy doing weird plots that only make sense to the crazy’. Yet Saw is horror.
Solee: Oh. I think I was thinking of Saw. Definitely horror. How much of that is in the eye of the beholder, too? Like comedy.
Mikey: I think it comes down to the previous answer: it’s intent. If the people selling the film declare it a comedy, it is. It may be a terrible unfunny comedy, and they’ll pay the price for picking the wrong genre, since people will be disappointed in not getting what they hoped for. It’s amazing how deeply embedded our culture is in our brains. Side fun: I heard that when they first introduced the idea of cuts in movies way way back when, they were afraid to do it because they thought people wouldn’t understand what was happening, since in real life nothing ever jumps from one scene to another. But people did. So not that fun of an aside.
Solee: That’s dumb of them. Books have had cuts forever. Movie people are silly. Although, I’ve had some personal experiences over the last few years that show you can never overestimate the cluelessness of some people.
Mikey: Ain’t that the truth. Let me grab this discussion about cuts to segueway into something different: the actual MOVIE WE WATCHED. If they thought people couldn’t handle cuts, how about cutting between different first-person perspectives?
Solee: I still can’t decide if I love that or hate it. It’s either exceptionally clever and an excellent tool for telling a complicated story with lots of secrets… or it’s super lazy writing. I want it to be the former, but I’m afraid it might be the latter.
Mikey: I don’t think it’s lazy. They had to work really hard to construct the narrative around this gimmick. But I do think it’s a gimmick. It got in the way of the story some, and every time they did something goofy with it, I was really taken out of the movie: we had the guy’s vision turn red when he got mad, the girl’s vision turned blurry when she cried, and the most silly was the blood running down the lens when our POV died at one point.
Solee: Yeah… it was pretty cheesy at those points. But it was also cleverly woven together to give us the story the person WANTED us to hear and then give us the REAL story. I thought that was interesting. I guess, I felt it was almost too easy to do that with this head-hopping POV. I think it worked in the movie’s favor for me overall, though. You had to watch very closely so you didn’t miss something.
Mikey: Yes, it was almost real-time, so if you missed the little moments of someone doing something sneaky, you missed a key plot point. I did feel like – I don’t know if this is a real thing, or just how actors look when you view them from somebody’s face – but it felt like a stage play, kind of stilted weird acting, when they were trying to interact with a camera for a head. I’m sure the real actors were there, with like Go-Pros on their heads or something, so I don’t know why the actors would’ve had a hard time with it.
Solee: I think it does cause the blocking to look different than we’re used to. It’s should have looked more like real life. You know how TV families only ever use 3 sides of their dining room table? This would eliminate the need for that. But it stands out because it’s not what we’re used to seeing on screen.
Mikey: It’s those deeply embedded cultural ideas again. BOOM FULL CIRCLE.
Solee: Nicely done! I noted that each POV had a different visual style to make them easy to tell apart. Laura looked mostly normal, like the 3rd person POV they threw in occasionally. Church’s view used a gray filter and Justin used a brown filter. I was trying to think of what meaning those choices carried, but I’ve got nothing.
Mikey: Justin’s vision was practically black and white… I kept thinking it was going to mean something. Hey, 8% of men are colorblind, so maybe he was.
Solee: I was expecting something deeper than that… but given the “on the nose” aspect of the blurred screen for tears and red filter for anger, it could be that simple.
Mikey: Speaking of that simple, I felt like the writing was really bad in this movie. Like a complex plot and all, but the dialogue… here’s where I wish Kevin Smith would’ve shown up, because this dialogue was so expositiony and unnatural to me.
Solee: It was almost as though it were being ad libbed, but by people who weren’t very good at being creative. Everything was very cliche in terms of their reactions to things. They didn’t really feel real to me, not like the people in Kill List or The Invitation. Dialogue was more along the lines of No Tell Motel!
Mikey: That’s not the company you want to keep! Maybe it was ad libbed… one thing they did really well was to match up the multiple versions of each scene, to the point where I was starting to wonder if it was all one scene, and they had the cameras on the whole time, somehow hidden or green-screened out. It was weird!
Solee: I didn’t go that far, but I did notice how nicely things dovetailed between POVs. I also noticed that conveniently shiny belt! It was one of several props that felt super forced. The mirror was another. That bothered me.
Mikey: There were moments to me that felt like magic tricks. They were just showing off ideas they had about what you could do with first-person cameras. Like when Laura went into the bathroom – at first she never looked at her own face in the mirror, and I was thinking “oh yeah, she can’t look up or we’d see the camera!”, and then she very deliberately did look at her face, which was probably a green-screen effect.
Solee: And what was up with them walking into rooms, completely closing the door to make the room PITCH black before turning on the lights? Who does that? NOBODY, that’s who. You always reach in and turn on the light in a dark room before or as you enter.
Mikey: I kept noticing the pitch black, but I didn’t think about that. I wonder if that was their moment to make cuts.
Solee: For sure. But they made it too clunky and obvious to be clever. Can we talk about the love triangle for a second? I get that it was part of the secrecy among the characters and it added to the story UNTIL it got super overly melodramatic. Then it just felt ridiculous to me.
Mikey: I have trouble seeing her particularly wanting to hang around a junkie like Church… but the whole pile of secrets and lies was kind of like that. Weird and seemingly random, not really a believable scenario.
Solee: The flashback to Laura and Church in the bar actually felt like one of the more realistic scenes in the movie. BUT. The Laura at the bar was a totally different person than the Laura in the rest of the movie. Rest of the Movie Laura wouldn’t have been so easy and happy with Church. She was the kind of person who got all wrapped up with cops who say things like “You can’t force someone to get clean.”
Mikey: Yeah, the overly villainous villains. But apparently she was actually a mob boss herself… I guess (spoilers!).
Solee: Or something. I’m not sure if they did a crappy job of explaining that part of the story or if I was SO BORED by that point that I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Seriously, I’ve never been so specifically disinterested in the climax of a movie before. I liked everything right up to when the cops showed up the second time. Then I was just waiting for it to end.
Mikey: I was interested, because there were puzzle pieces all around to find and try to fit together. Unfortunately, I feel like by the end that the pieces were just kind of similar rather than matching and they had jammed them together and bent them all up.
Solee: Great analogy. Yes. It felt forced.
Mikey: Well, talking to you is making me like this movie less as we go, and I wasn’t a huge fan to begin with! Is it time for ratings?
Solee: I guess. Wait. One more thing that bugged me…
Church had a huge, ugly wound in his abdomen (which Laura did a crap job of cleaning, btw) and then Laura had a nasty knife wound on her neck (which seemed to disappear). They both made a big show of how much it hurt while the wound was on-screen, but then they both completely ignored their injuries for the rest of the movie. Not a wince or limp or whimper out of them. I blame the director. Did that bother you at all?
Mikey: Well, Laura had an excuse – her wound magically vanished for no reason. I did spot Church one time talking while he had one hand resting on his injury. I thought that was a nice realistic touch at the time actually, but overall, yes, they totally ignored his hugely painful wound. Do people snort tylenol for real? How does that do anything but make you hurt less?
Solee: No idea. Sounds like it would be uncomfortable. But I don’t even like when water goes up my nose.
Mikey: I once snorted kool-aid mix. It was really unpleasant.
Solee: WHA? WHY would you do that?
Mikey: Sisters, of course. They may have forced me. I was a tortured soul.
Solee: Yikes. I’m glad I was the oldest. I wonder if I ever convinced any of my siblings to snort kool-aid. I suspect not, since kool-aid wasn’t a thing we had at our house. Powdered lemonade, maybe. Ready to rate?
Mikey: Okay but now that you mention it, it was probably Country Time after all.
Solee: Of COURSE. That’s the only powdered lemonade worth drinking! It was either that or Tang in those days. 🙂
Mikey: I didn’t drink it :(. I will say that I am glad I watched this movie. It was an interesting experiment, and fun to see how the first-person mishmash played out. But it was a pretty dumb story, delivered pretty badly. So all in all, I’m going to give it a 2 out of 5.
Solee: I’d be interested in seeing a better director use the 1st person POV. I wonder if it’s just inherently flawed, or if the right skilled someone could make it work.
I want to give it a lower score just because the ending was sooo boring, but I did appreciate the first half of the movie, so I guess I will also give it a 2 out of 5. But I’m being generous.
Mikey: Oh, and I kept thinking Justin was Nathan Fillion, or that he should’ve been. I’m glad we are in rating agreement, it helps soothe my burning nose.
Solee: We need to go deep into real horror for the next one though, because this was NOT a horror movie. I look forward to seeing what horrific nastiness can be found in The Uninvited.
Mikey: Me too me too!
*If you have comments to leave specifically for Mikey, you can see this same interview/discussion posted here, on his website.