Producers: Javier Chapa, Jon Silk, Adrianne Fraser and Delphine Perrier Director: Adrian Grünberg Screenplay: Boise Esquerra Cast: Josh Lucas, Fernanda Urrejola, Venus Ariel, Carlos Solórzano, Julio César Cedillo, Jorge Jiménez, Raúl Méndez, Héctor Jiménez, Edgar Flores, Bolivar Sanchez and Omar Chaparro Distributor: The Avenue
Mixing monster movie clichés with Aztec myth, domestic drama and a monitory ecological message, “The Black Demon” is the third directing outing by Adrian Grünberg, who put the nail in the coffin of the “Rambo” franchise with “Last Blood,” which won him a Razzie nomination in 2019. It extends his losing streak.
The demon of the title is no devilish spirit from the infernal regions but a huge megalodon shark gobbling up people off the coast of Baja, Mexico—an actual legend, it appears. The creature is glimpsed first in a prologue, in which it devours a diver named Nacho (Bolivar Sanchez) in the murky waters. At least we know its menu preferences.
The film then cuts to the Sturges family, driving to Mexico for both business and pleasure. Paul (Josh Lucas) is an engineer for Nixon Oil (a name not likely to call up the notion of ethical purity), sent to do an inspection of the company’s offshore oil platform. Tagging along are his wife Inez (Fernanda Urrejola), out to investigate her roots, and their kids, snippy teen Audrey (Venus Ariel) and inquisitive, cute-as-a-button tyke Tommy (Carlos Solórzano).
Paul intends a quick trip out to the rig while his family stays behind on shore, despite the fact that they find the town virtually deserted, its residual population dominated by surly men like El Rey (Raúl Méndez). Things quickly go sour. Paul has to boat to the platform alone, since the fellow hired to take him there won’t venture near the place, and finds it a dilapidated ruin. Meanwhile Inez and the kids are menaced by some thugs in a bar and, finding the tires on their car slashed, pay a fisherman to take them to the rig too. We get another blurry view of the beast when that fisherman, leaving the platform for home, gets swallowed up as he goes.
Now the whole family is stranded, along with a petite dog called Toro and the only two surviving workers—Chato (Julio César Cedillo) and Junior (Jorge Jiménez). Paul sets to work trying to repair the radio to call for help or, failing that, figuring out an escape plan. Chato and Junior go along with his plans, even risking their lives in the process. But Chato also explains that the Black Demon, as he calls the beast, is no ordinary big shark, but the instrument of the great god Tlaloc, unleashed to avenge the carnage humans have inflicted on the environment. It not only consumes the perpetrators, but can control minds, causing humans to see things that aren’t there, like the ships Paul perceives on the horizon—mere mirages.
The search of the rig for anything that could aid an escape reveals that Nixon had cut corners in building the platform, heedlessly damaging the area and concealing the wrongdoing. It also reveals that the company has planned Paul’s mission to the site as a means of taking care of loose ends. The corporate skullduggery might seem like small potatoes compared to Tlaloc’s megalodon, but it increases the urgency of getting off the platform quickly. It also causes a rift between Paul and Inez.
For all its monster movie trappings, “The Black Demon” is a very talky picture, with uninspired expository dialogue, familial squabbling and heavy-handed discourses on messing with Mother Nature taking up more of the running-time than the business with the shark—no great loss, perhaps, since the visual effects are strictly of poverty-row quality, and Grünberg and his technical team (cinematographer Antonio Riestra and editors Sam Baixauli and V. Manuel Medina) show minimal flair in the few action sequences. On the other hand, Carlos Osorio’s production design is convincingly shabby (the movie was actually shot in the Dominican Republic), and the score by Leonardo Heiblum and Jacobo Lieberman conjures up a feeling of dread unmatched on the screen.
You can’t accuse Lucas of phoning things in—he positively works up a frenzy as the distraught family man, so much that he throws everybody else in the shade, except for little Solórzano (a cute kid is always a scene-stealer). But even the efforts of a game cast can’t rescue a very silly, pretentious, lackluster horror flick suitable for viewing only by people who can’t wait for the next Shark Week.