I’ve watched a lot of Christmas horror movies in my day. I’ve watched a lot of shark movies too, so when I heard that a movie called Santa Jaws was premiering on SyFy, well, I was obligated to tune in. Now I love Christmas horror and shark films, and there are some great titles from both of those categories, however, there’s also a lot of bottom of the barrel schlock to be found. That’s all to say that when I sat down to watch this mashup of the two I tried to do so with zero expectations — which, if I’m being honest, is hard to do with a movie called Santa Jaws.
Cody, played by Reid Miller who looks an awful lot like Edward Furlong circa 1991, is your typical teenage comic book fan. He and his best friend Steve (Hawn Tran) have created a new comic called Santa Jaws just in time for the holiday season. The film opens with the two sharing the new book with their local comic book guy, Clark (Scott Allen Perry), as they prepare for the comic book store’s big Christmas Eve party. In a move that we can all relate to, Cody is dreading having to spend any holiday time with his family and is using this comic party as his escape.
Unfortunately, the day before the big party Cody’s mom gets a call from the school principal. It seems as if Cody drew an offensive drawing portraying the principal in an unfavorable manner and shared it on social media. Cody gets grounded for a week and that means no Christmas Eve part at the comic book store. Rats.
Before going to bed that night Cody makes some new Santa Jaws sketches using a pen he received from his grandpa as a gift. While drawing he wishes he were alone for Christmas and well, that turns out to be a not-so-great idea. The pen, it’s magic, and it brings Santa Jaws to life. And the living, breathing Santa Jaws only has one goal — to kill Cody’s family. Cody teams with Steve, his older brother Josh (Arthur Marroquin) and the cute girl (Courtney Lauren Cummings) that just moved in next door to defeat Santa Jaws and save the family.
I’m not really a big fan of the shark mashup movies that SyFy and The Asylum regularly pump out. A lot of them have a thin premise built off one joke that quickly dies out and they typically seem to be hastily made in order to just get another one out. A lot of these absurd movies could actually be fun if they were made with real effort in an attempt to be good. Most fail to do that. Fortunately, Santa Jaws ain’t most.
With Santa Jaws it feels like there was a genuine effort to make a good movie beyond the simple joke of, “wouldn’t it be funny of Santa Claus was a shark?” The film creates this world for Santa Jaws to exist and within that world there are specific rules that the film follows. This shark isn’t just a mindless killing machine that will eat anything and anyone. It’s attracted to Christmas and things associated with Christmas, meaning the only way it will even come swimming around is there is something Christmasy in the area luring it over. Cody and the gang use this to their advantage to wage a war with the shark and discover that while Christmas gives the shark its strength, Christmas can also be used to defeat it. You know, just like the popular saying, “Live by Christmas, die by Christmas.”
The film avoids falling into the trap of having too many digital shark effects, a problem in nearly all of these modern-day cheapo shark movies. Of course the shark is CGI, but they don’t spend too much time on that. The majority of the film we only see the shark’s dorsal fin sticking out of the water wearing an adorable Santa hat and guess what? It’s a prop dorsal fin wearing a real Santa hat! Santa Jaws gives us something real and tangible, something we could hold, and that can go a long way.
The film isn’t without its flaws, of course. The digital effects that are used aren’t great. And the script could have used some tweaking. The general plot works fine and there are a few nods to other Christmas movies (I’m convinced the grandpa in this movie is a direct reference to Silent Night, Deadly Night), but some of the jokes and attempts at one-liners don’t quite land. A re-write or two probably could have cleaned some of that stuff up, but my guess is this film wasn’t given the time or money for that. The actors deserve a lot of credit for making what they do have work by all being very likable. There is a running bit about Clark not being able to help fight the shark because someone has to watch the store that made me chuckle.
My biggest issue with the film is the Christmas aspect. While Christmas does play a key role, I would have liked it having stronger Christmas vibes. I wanted to see houses fully decorated and I wanted to see them at night with the lights on — I don’t think any part of this movie takes place at night. I also wish the movie would have either been released in November/December to be more in line with the Holiday season or have been released in July as part of a Christmas in July sort of thing. Instead it was released for Syfy’s Sharknado Week, which I get because that’s a big deal for them, but Sharknado doesn’t do anything for me.
Santa Jaws is already receiving plenty of sarcastic praise. IMDb has two 10-star reviews written declaring it a masterpiece and demanding a sequel. Twitter had a lot fun with it; I even live-tweeted the film, with many people treating it the way they did Sharknado. It’s not a masterpiece and it doesn’t deserve a sequel. It’s an absurd movie with a ridiculous premise, but it’s actually made with real effort in an attempt to make that absurdity work. Santa Jaws may have been birthed like many of the other recent shark flicks, but it’s quite a bit better and deserves to be treated as such.
Fun fact: Santa Jaws was directed by Misty Talley, the director behind Shark Island, Ozark Sharks and Mississippi River Sharks.