14th Jun2024

‘Under Paris’ Review (Netflix)

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Bérénice Bejo, Nassim Lyes, Léa Léviant, Anaïs Parello, Anne Marivin | Written by Xavier Gens, Yannick Dahan, Maud Heywang | Directed by Xavier Gens

With its deceptively simple shark-in-Paris set-up, you could be thinking that Under Paris (which is currently streaming on Netflix), was the sort of cheap-looking sharksploitation nonsense that the SyFy channel put out on a regular basis. Not a bit of it. Directed by Xavier Gens (Lupin), it’s a terrific shark-based thriller that has a lot of gory fun with its premise and even delivers a few surprises. Netflix really missed a trick by not calling it Shark de Triomphe though. (Or Shark in Seine, or Chomps Elysees).

Under Paris begins with a prologue in which expert shark researcher Sophia (Bérénice Bejo) has her entire team -including her husband- eaten by a giant shark named Lilith, while on a shark-tagging trip in the heavily polluted Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Three years later and the same shark tag is picked up in the Seine by a group of youth activists in Paris, who contact Sophia for her advice.

However, the timing couldn’t be worse, as the Mayor has organised an imminent triathalon event, which will involve large numbers of people swimming in the Seine. With Sophia caught in the middle, the race is on between the police trying to kill the shark and the activists trying to save it. But Lilith isn’t about to go quietly.

The shark-savvy script follows the Jaws model clearly enough for the first half (money-hungry Mayor prioritising cash over people’s safety etc), but Under Paris has a number of clever twists up its sleeve, none of which it would be fair to reveal here. Suffice it to say that the danger levels are upped considerably and the results are a blood-soaked joy to watch.

Gens is clearly a fan of the aquatic creature feature genre and he orchestrates a number of spectacular set-pieces, most notably a jaw-dropping sequence set in the Paris Catacombs, presumably the main reason for the English language title. He’s also a dab (severed) hand at creating tension, aided by a superb soundtrack from Alex Cortes that commendably resists the urge to swim in Jaws’ wake.

In addition, Gens is fully alive to the importance of shocking and memorable imagery when it comes to chompy shark movies, and there are several great shots here. In addition, he knows that the creature is all the more terrifying if it’s not seen very much, which is just as well, because it’s fair to say that the few times it is clearly seen, the CGI work is very apparent.

As for the cast, Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) grounds the film with a likeable lead performance and there’s strong support from both Nassim Lyes (as the sympathetic cop who becomes her main ally) and Lea Leviant as the activist whose desire to save Lilith sets in motion all manner of shark-related mayhem. There’s also colourful support from Anne Marivin as the Mayor, though the film sadly neglects to give her the fatal nibbling she deserves.

Without giving too much away, what really sets Under Paris apart from its dorsal-finned predecessors is the sheer audaciousness of its ending. It’s something that audiences are unlikely to see coming, and to that end, you can’t help feeling a little sad that the film didn’t get a theatrical release, because the cinema reaction would have -ahem- put the Seine in insane.

**** 4/5

Under Paris is available to watch on Netflix now.

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