Under Paris

  • 22 Jun - 28 Jun, 2024
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

The problem shark movies have is they got it right the first time. Yes, I know there were shark movies before Jaws, but that 1975 Spielberg classic made sharks mainstream, and since then it has never been surpassed. Under Paris doesn’t quite escape the long triangular shadow of that movie either, but it has a better go than most wannabes in the last few decades.

The French Netflix film, directed by Xavier Gens (Lupin), has a brilliantly simple premise – there’s a shark in the Seine. It sounds like a joke-y idea, but it isn’t treated as such. This is no Sharknado, or even Deep Blue Sea. It’s the kind of shark movie that proceeds as if there were no shark movies before it, totally earnest in its delivery of toothy set-pieces and memorable images.

There’s a bit more meat on the bones than the premise suggests, but only as much as is necessary to give the characters something to bicker over. The antagonist is Lilith, a giant mako shark which has migrated from the saltier climes of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the less toxic Seine, where it plans a stopover in the cozy catacombs thanks to having evolved the ability to reproduce via parthenogenesis.

So, there’s a bit of environmentalism here, a bit of science-fiction, and a touch of personal investment since our protagonist, scientist Sophia (Bérénice Bejo), lost her husband in the way one usually does when they swim with giant apex predators. But there’s mostly just a shark, and sometimes several sharks, in areas where there absolutely shouldn’t be sharks, and it yields some riotously entertaining results.

Oh, another thing. Paris is due to host a triathlon, the swimming portion of which will take place in the Seine. The fact that Under Paris proceeds as if there have been no shark movies before it, but that was a bit of a fib – the mayor who refuses to postpone the event despite the obvious risks is very much a Shark Movie Mayor.

Anyway, this movie rules. It’s often gorgeous to look at thanks to Gens and DP Nicolas Massart, who construct some terrifyingly beautiful sequences that make fantastic use of colour (the red flares!), claustrophobia (the catacombs!), and Oscar-nominated performers (Bejo!) to repeatedly deliver genuine thrills.

Bejo isn’t alone, but she’s playing one of the few characters who isn’t destined to become chum. The Save Our Seas Collective activist movement proves pleasantly disposable, as do most of the police divers, so there aren’t very many people to latch onto emotionally. This isn’t a criticism, though – it’s precisely what you expect from this kind of movie.

And that’s the point. Under Paris is just impeccably well-constructed as a shark movie. It’s dopey but not stupid, outlandish but not silly, violent but not gratuitous, and serious but not so serious that it isn’t great fun. In 2024, it’d be less surprising to get a streaming shark movie entirely about the happy-clappy environmental movement and not, you know, the shark.

So, enjoy. It might not be Jaws, but it’s the closest thing we’ve had for ages.