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Deep Blue Sea

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The opening scene of “Deep Blue Sea” is fantastically representative of the entire film. There are four good-looking teen-agers on a boat in the ocean, drinking beer and fooling around. Then something bumps the boat. We know it’s a shark because we know that “Deep Blue Sea” is a movie about sharks. It tears a hole in the boat, knocks two of the teens into the water, and we figure someone’s about to get eaten. So far, the scene has been set up to be exactly like a thousand other films of this genre.

And then the shark doesn’t eat them. Instead, it’s captured by the scientists who run the research facility from which it escaped, and all is well.

From then on, you can rest assured that you can never rest assured of anything in this movie. Your horror-movie expectations of who will die and who won’t, and when scary things will happen and when they won’t, are toyed with and then ripped to pieces. I can think of at least two moments that left me with my jaw wide open, shaking my head and thinking, “That did NOT just happen.”

Horror movies have gone through an interesting evolution the last few years. The winking self-awareness of slasher films like “Scream” has led to films like this one where the filmmakers know we’ve seen a million of these already, and that we think we know what to expect. Armed with that knowledge, “Deep Blue Sea” is able to pull the rug out from under us.

Aside from the surprise factor, this happens to be a good film anyway, with an especially good musical underscore and refreshingly non-stupid, non-teen-age characters. There is no character development, as usual, but at least everyone seems to have motivation for his or her actions, and no one walks into any dark basements, metaphorically speaking.

The story has a group of scientists at a state-of-the-art research facility in the Pacific Ocean. Having discovered that sharks’ brain activity doesn’t decrease with age, they are studying the toothy beasts to see if they can use their non-decaying brain matter to help combat Alzheimer’s.

The lead scientist (Saffron Burrows) had a grandfather die of the disease, hence her obsession with curing it — an obsession that leads to more than a little trouble for her and her colleagues.

Samuel L. Jackson plays the suit whose company is providing funding. He visits the facility for the weekend, concerned about what’s going on, especially after that shark escaped and almost ate those teen-agers.

While there, he learns of an unfortunate side effect of the research. Seems the sharks’ brains weren’t big enough to get much Alzheimer’s-battling protein out of them, so the scientists enlarged three test sharks’ brains. Trouble is, when you enlarge something’s brain, it gets smarter. Now the sharks are intelligent (for sharks), resulting in a pretty creepy premise: These sharks are actually hunting the humans, not just killing them if they happen to get in their way.

The film’s not perfect. There are a few moments of far-fetchedness, and they stick out like sore thumbs in a movie that is otherwise pretty fresh. There’s also one character (I won’t say which one) who is established as the one meant to be the “audience favorite.” And sure enough, though he’s attacked, he doesn’t die. That’s a shame, because the film plays with all our other expectations, killing characters you would normally assume to be safe; it shouldn’t have caved in and gone conventional on this one.

B+ (; R, graphic shark attacks, and for language.)

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