It’s 1916 and the beaches of New Jersey are packed with swimmers, eager to forget the stories of the war brewing across the Atlantic. However that all changed on July 1st when, during a twelve-day period, a killer shark takes up residence in the waters, threatening New Jersey’s thriving tourist industry.
Ah, the killer shark genre. Never has a sub-genre been so inept at coming up with anything remotely as exciting as the original Jaws. The first true killer shark flick and it’s still head and shoulders above the rest despite more recent films having bigger budgets, access to better special effects and shooting schedules that don’t go wrong at every opportunity. So how is it that the likes of Shark Attack, Shark Swarm, the Jaws sequels and even Deep Blue Sea (arguably the best of the Jaws-wannabes) have come nowhere near recapturing the scares, the thrills and the overall entertainment of Spielberg’s classic? 12 Days of Terror is actually a different take on the whole genre. Instead of just copying scenes or rehashing elements, this one takes its cue straight from history and bases itself around the true events which inspired Peter Benchley to write Jaws. It’s no coincidence that this one plays out pretty much the same way as the classic blockbuster but at least it can’t be called a copy.
Given the recent spate of killer shark flicks, 12 Days of Terror has a refreshing approach to the same genre material. I guess it’s the period setting which helps the film. With it being based in 1916, the film has to pretend it knows nothing about sharks: there’s the lack of scientific facts really understand what they’re about (no quotes here about sharks smelling blood in the water from miles away) and there’s the lack of modern equipment to track and combat them (the very primitive steel fences that are erected around the bathing area look useless). It’s almost as if the people don’t know how to handle the situation because it’s totally new to them – watch the scientists laugh at the suggestion that a shark killed the first victim, suggesting it was a torpedo that did it. This period feel also helps during the attack scenes as there’s a real sense of helplessness for the victims. I know people are screwed when they’re attacked by sharks at the best of times, but here you know that the people watching on the beach have no clue as to go about the situation. The attacks consist of little more than the people thrashing around in bloodied water and the shark rarely makes a full appearance. When it does turn up, it’s reasonably effective. Some scenes are CGI but some are clearly animatronics with a splash of CGI thrown in for good measure.
12 Days of Terror has one glaring problem and that it’s downright tiresome. I am sure that the actual events were a lot more exciting than this makes out, given the plodding pace and real lack of anything to get the audience involved with the film. There’s a tepid love triangle between the main characters which is totally pointless and just serves to pad time out. Despite this film being based on the events that inspired Jaws, it seems more like the other way around and that Jaws inspired this film given the way things pan out with the mayor not closing the beaches, the lead characters setting off to sea to kill the shark – which apparently didn’t happen in the true events either. According to the reports, the shark was never caught and it just swam back out to sea. So the finale here with the characters trying to kill the shark in a rickety old boat seems to have been fabricated to add a little bit of excitement. This begs the question: if the writers were going to take liberty with the outcome, why not take liberties with a few other parts of the film too? Either keep it realistic or bling it up with gore and shark attacks!
12 Days of Terror has a refreshing approach on the generic killer shark film and manages to raise itself above most of the straight-to-video Jaws rip-offs. But its tedious plodding drama and lack of real bite when needed throw this one back into the chum with the rest.