‘Under Paris’ Breathes Bloody Life Into a Sinking Subgenre

Requins. Pourquoi faudrait-il que ce soit des requins ?
Under Paris

Fans of the killer shark horror genre have learned to eat light over the years as the pickings have left something to be desired. The issue isn’t quantity as we’ve seen twenty-five or more in the past few years alone, but instead, the problem for us shark attack cinema afishionados comes down to quality. A sampling of those twenty-five movies includes titles like Sky Sharks (2020), Noah’s Shark (2021), Ouija Shark 2 (2022), and Cocaine Shark (2023) — you get the picture. So when a good one comes along, a film that manages to deliver fun thrills throughout? Well, it’s time to feast. And thanks to Xavier Gens‘ latest, a new Netflix film called Under Paris, we’re feasting for the first time since 2020’s Deep Blue Sea 3 (not a joke, it’s a great time).

Sophia (Academy Award nominee Bérénice Bejo) and her team of ocean researchers are exploring a Pacific Ocean garbage patch — essentially a floating island of plastic crap sent to sea by us humans — and tracking the effect our pollution has on marine life. Their main subjects are sharks, but no sooner do they spot one they’ve named Lilith when the big mako shark attacks the group leaving only Sophia left alive. Three years later she’s working in a Parisian aquarium when a young activist named Mika (Léa Léviant) tells her that they’re still tracking Lilith, and that she’s here in Paris swimming freely in the Seine. Worse, the city is about to serve up a human buffet in the form of a high-profile triathlon that’s about to kick off in the river too. Sacré bleu!

Under Paris makes its nods to the golden granddaddy of killer shark movies clear with a mayor (Anne Marivin) who ignores the warnings in favor of the acclaim, publicity, and tourist dollars of the big, pre-Olympics triathlon. It feels every bit, though, that Gens has taken even more inspiration from a Dick Maas double feature of Amsterdamned (1988) and Uncaged (2016) as it blends fast-moving thrills on the city’s waterways with a big CG-rendered beast tearing its way through the populace in increasingly entertaining fashion. To be clear, while Maas’ films lean into comedy at times, Gens and company play Under Paris completely straight. That said, just because there are no obvious laughs or sight gags doesn’t mean there’s not plenty of fun to be had.

Sophia is joined by a squad of Parisian water cops, including the gruff but understanding Adi (Nassim Lyes) who bonds with her over a similarly traumatic past, and they’re the serious core here. A lesser script, or at least one attributed to eight writers instead of this film’s credited seven (!), would muddy the waters with romance, but here the focus remains stopping the impending carnage. Other characters, though, manage some antics guaranteed to leave a smile on your face. Marivin doesn’t try to channel the late, great Murray Hamilton, but she delivers some gleeful pomposity as a mayor with no time for sharks. Mika, meanwhile, takes the very real message about humankind’s ongoing destruction of the planet and its occupants, and helps lead a group of like-minded, very sincere youths into some dangerous waters for one of the film’s back-half set-pieces resulting in some terrifically staged and wonderfully bloody chaos.

The shark effects are accomplished with a mix of the practical and digital, and the bulk of it looks pretty damn good. Gens lets Lilith come into frame slowly, methodically, and its miles (kilometers?) ahead of the norm for the genre when it comes to the CG quality. That’s not always the case as digital sharks darting about will never look real, and the third act shenanigans get far wilder than you’re probably expecting. You’ll most likely be on the hook by that point, though, so the effects won’t be enough to push you away as you’ll instead most likely have settled in for the ride before things grow gloriously out of control.

Everything about the film lifts it above the type of shark movies mentioned by name above as, even with some occasionally sketchy CG, Gens is out here making a real movie. The cast is both talented and invested meaning even the sillier concepts and story turns are delivered convincingly. A handful of shots use digital matting while most of the scenes out of the water are filmed in real locations, and the beats under the water all feel like they’re actually in open water. Cinematographer Nicolas Massart also does good work ensuring we feel the claustrophobic confines of both murky water and the city’s underground/underwater catacombs and tunnels. It all feels like a grounded, ticking time-bomb of a thriller that builds into a silly but still thrilling third act with an incredible body count. What’s not to love about that?

Gens’ genre filmography is all over the place, but he’s been a terrific roll recently with the one-two punch of Mayhem (2023) and this shark romp — one-two-three punch if you include his stellar work on Gangs of London‘s first season. Next up for him is an action film “adapted” from Charles Dickens called The Guns of Christmas Past, and you can bet we’ll be first in line for that holiday treat. This could have easily been a throwaway gig, but he gives it his all ensuring that the end result is a highly satisfying watch.

At just over a hundred minutes (with credits), Under Paris never overstays its welcome and instead builds its characters, story, and thrills with an entertaining ease. This is killer shark horror/thriller done right across the board, from money well spent on CG to a cast and crew locked in and ready to create a seriously fun tale of nature gone amok with an assist from our own poor ecological choices. It’s not smart, necessarily, and it would never be mistaken for a documentary, but the damn thing delivers. And not for nothing, but there’s an element at play here that reminds me of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) — don’t worry, no specifics or spoilers — and here’s hoping it means what I think it means. Vive la shark cinema!

Under Paris premieres on Netflix starting June 5th.

Rob Hunter: Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.