Deep Blue Sea is an incredibly prescient disaster movie.
The superintelligent sharks that live in said sea are being researched to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. Lead scientist Dr. Susan McAlester, played by Saffron Burrows, is desperate to find a cure after her father passed away. A scientist desperate to find a cure and willing to take dangerous risks — it’s enough to make you think about scientists all across the globe racing to find a cure for Covid-19.
Then Stellan Skarsgård gets his arm ripped off by a superintelligent shark and all bets are off.
Deep Blue Sea is streaming on Hulu. But watch it now, before it swims away on October 31.
The biggest hits of 1999 — Star Wars: Episode I and The Matrix — were built to feel futuristic to redefine preconceived notions about Anakin Skywalker and human identity, respectively. Deep Blue Sea isn’t that. The movie (released July 28, 1999) has a distinctly older feel than either of those films. According to director Renny Harlin, that was intentional.
“I wanted to take the genre back to the big-scale movie making level of films like The Exorcist, The Shining, and Jaws, for which you have great actors, great production values, and you do it seriously. You’re not winking at the audience, you’re trying to scare them to death,” he said in an interview at the time.
Harlin also references Alien, saying the ensemble cast guaranteed nobody in the audience could predict who would die and who would live. Deep Blue Sea lives up to that, especially when a certain famous actor dies right after his speech demanding that everyone stick together.
Deep Blue Sea is not Alien. The ensemble, which does feature a young pre-Punisher Thomas Jane, never achieves the same incredible chemistry. It’s mainly anchored by LL Cool J, who plays a Bible-quoting cook named Preacher with charm to spare as he looks after his bird.
But the ensemble winnows thanks to the superintelligent sharks, who are legitimately scary. The movie isn’t afraid to stand in the shadow of Jaws, and its action sequences are clear-cut and understandable. Harlin, who also directed Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger, knows how to film action. Underwater sequences, which are dark and have humans move slowly by default, are tricky to get right. The film uses physics and plenty of light to make sure we understand what’s going on.
There’s no clear villain in the film beyond the sharks. Samuel L. Jackson is the corporate guy, but he’s seen more as a beacon of stability before he is killed. Saffron Burrows’ doctor is unlikeable, but her character’s motivations are noble — she’s actually driven by finding a cure for Alzheimer’s and gets to electrocute a shark. The pain on her face after having to destroy her own research is palpable, and she ends up sacrificing herself.
“I hate to interrupt this moment of emerging intimacy, but can we get the fuck out of here?” LL Cool J asks at one point, as Jane and Burrows share a moment. Harlin keeps the story moving, never getting bogged down in subplot or extraneous details. At times the movie feels a little too thin — Preacher records a video obituary that hints at a fascinating life, but a few more details of that would have been welcome.
But hints work in a Deep Blue Sea, which is trying to just be a good scary movie about DNA-altered sharks killing people and destroying buildings. It became a classic of the “movie that’s on” genre, one of those random films that you'd catch on cable and wind up watching the second half because it works. For what Deep Blue Sea is trying to be, it absolutely succeeds.
Deep Blue Sea is streaming on Hulu until October 31.