“What is your favorite subgenre of scary movies?” I ask in a raspy Ghostface voice just so that I can tell you that mine is Ocean Disaster and why that is.
Ocean disaster movies appeal to me specifically because the ocean is a very real thing that causes me very real terror. According to the National Ocean Service, whom I think we can trust for our deep sea facts, more than 80 percent of the ocean is “unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored.” And yet, we deem things like sea monsters to be fictitious. Come on.
The ocean is beautiful, mystical, full of sea creatures and secrets (I reconsidered and deleted the obvious pun, you’re welcome), and I would very much like to leave it alone and stop polluting it. Oceanographers go poking around at their own risk. So watching movies about people who finds themselves at the ocean’s mercy is thrilling, both because I know I’ll (hopefully) never be in their situation and because I know the director won’t need to work that hard to freak me out. This list is a collection of five who did anyway.
SEA FEVER (2019)
PhD student Siobhan tags along with a group of fishers so she can observe abnormal behavioral patterns in sea fauna. Her presence isn’t exactly welcomed thanks to superstition and sailor cynicism, but proves helpful when the team encounters something bizarre in the deep. The discovery sets in motion a disturbing chain of events that approaches the concept of “sea fever” (sea-induced paranoia and claustrophobia) from a physical viewpoint with a sci-fi twist.
Jen wakes up stranded on a remote island and must figure out a way to not only survive the elements but a Lovecraftian sea monster who makes its way onshore at night through a portal deep in the ocean floor. As the film goes on we learn more about Jen and her hungry opponent, as well as remnants of their pasts continue to wash ashore.
OPEN WATER 2: ADRIFT (2006)
Yes, I’m seriously putting the sequel on here. The original Open Water is stellar and perhaps too obvious to appear on this list, but this particular installment in the series is underrated. While the plot and dialogue veer toward silly at times, the film is an expert portrayal of how quickly humans abandon rationality for survival instincts when faced with dire consequences. A group of friends reunite on a yacht and spend the day enjoying the water until they realize nobody remembered to throw down the ladder to climb back onboard. The only person still on the yacht is a sleeping newborn. Despite being part of a shark movie franchise, this one stands out for being totally free of sea-faring predators—the ocean herself (and maybe some mob stupidity) serves as antagonist.
THE BAY (2012)
While the majority of this takes place on land, it’s what came from the ocean that’s to blame. This found footage film explores the tragedy faced in a seaside Maryland town in 2009 that led to citizens dying suddenly from an unknown infection caused by something in the water. It’s both sci-fi conspiracy and body horror in a clever documentary format.
SHARK LAKE (2015)
OK, so this isn’t the ocean. Plus the title alone seems far-fetched, right? Well, not for a Dolph Lundgren movie. A small town is terrorized by their lake’s newest resident, a hungry shark who amasses a considerable body count while a detective with something to prove tries to track down its origin and prevent it from eating more people. Meanwhile, an ex-con (obviously played by Lundgren) beats up mobsters in the time it takes to perfectly sear his steak and takes the shark matters into his own hands to protect his daughter. It might even win him back custody. This one made the list solely because of its wildly ridiculous but entertaining storyline and too many quotable one-liners to count. Its average rating of 1.5 stars feels somehow fair and unfair at the same time.