There are sharks in the Seine – mon dieu! : NPR

Sharks in the Seine — ma dieu!

Netflix
/Sofie Gheysens


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Netflix
/Sofie Gheysens

I'll be the first to admit that I didn't even know about it there used to be a French shark movie until I saw it appear at the very top of the top 10 Netflix movies. And it's not like it hides anything about the subject: it's called Under Paris. You know why? Because it's all about sharks under Paris. Specifically, it is about sharks in the Seine. Initially there are only a few sharks. But then there are some lot of sharks. And the movie is apparently a huge hit, even though/because, while not as dumb as Sharknado, it is very dumb.

Under Paris (or, at least for me, Sharknadeau) starts off as a standard story about menacing creatures. Sophia (Bérénice Bejo, Oscar nominee for The artist) is a scientist who studies sharks near the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (a real, depressing thing). She and her team receive a signal from one of their tagged sharks, named Lilith, and several members of the team go diving to obtain a blood sample. This dive doesn't go well (I mean, I guess it goes well for Lilith), leaving Sophia traumatized.

A few years later, a shark rescue group in Paris warns Sophia that they know where Lilith is: in the Seine. Now, sharks in the Seine don't really exist, but perhaps the one benefit of climate change is the expansion of the possibilities for disaster movies. After all, a movie like this can throw up its hands and say, “Honestly, you don't know.” What's possible now that you can go to the beach for Christmas?” So: sharks in the Seine. Not only that, but multiply sharks in the Seine.

Bérénice Bejo stars as Sophia, a shark scientist.

Bérénice Bejo stars as Sophia, a shark scientist.

Sofie Gheysens/Netflix


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Sofie Gheysens/Netflix

Of course, Paris has an arrogant, carefree mayor who, like all government officials in shark movies, suffers from a pathological inability to fear sharks enough. She has only one priority: ensuring that the upcoming triathlon runs smoothly. That's right: the Seine is infested with predatory sharks just as crowds of swimmers are about to plunge into the Seine during a very public event. Mon dieu! If it were you or me, we might think to ourselves, “It's better to cancel the event in advance than have it canceled because all the swimmers have been devoured,” but no, the mayor of Paris isn't being that careful.

During the first half or so, Under Paris unfolds as a fairly stylish suspense film about a rarely seen threat. It doesn't look cheap road-wise Sharknado did for example. It's quite expertly shot and edited, it's exciting and frightening. In other words, it gets the job done.

In the second half, the film goes completely bazoo. Certain arguments about the sharks' intentions are resolved when some participants in those arguments are eaten. You get the first of a few overhead shots of a shark leaping out of the water, mouth first, so you can get a better look at someone in its jaws (heh) thinking, “This looks bad.” The crowd flees in fear. Blood flows. If you watch the film in the original French (which I recommend) and you have the English subtitles on, you will see a lot of the caption”[panicked screams].”

All this to say, it's not hard to see why this is such a popular property at the moment. It gives you half of a fairly normal movie and half of an absolutely crazy movie. About half of it is suspense, and about half of it is full-on horror, incredibly gory and with a very (very) high body count. And in the end, there's no doubt that just as these sharks are under Paris, the next ones will be under London (or New York, or wherever). If you're looking for a popcorn movie and you don't mind lots of cartoonish gore, you could do a lot worse.

This piece also appeared in NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter so you don't miss the next one, and get weekly recommendations on what makes us happy.

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