Could it be? Are the "Shark Horror" gods smiling upon us from Atlantis? Xavier Gens' Under Paris blends the bureaucratic foolhardiness of Jaws with Deep Blue Sea’s tempo. While science-based ecological themes get murky, the film shines at its most chaotic. A rogue female mako swimming France' Seine River brings shades of Dick Maas' Amsterdamned or Uncaged, varying takes on horrific (and preposterous) scenarios in major metropolitan areas. Don't look to Under Paris for grounded realism or bulletproof storytelling, but compared to the recent deluge of utterly impotent fin flicks over the last few years? Gens' aquatic thriller on Netflix is like stumbling upon the Holy Grail of Shark Horror.

Best Supporting Actress nominee Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) stars as oceanic wildlife researcher Sophia. Tragedy strikes when a tagged mako named Lilith turns on Sophia's diving team, including her husband, leaving Sophia with permanent pressure damage and her scuba squad deceased. That's our introduction to Under Paris—the rest takes place three years later when Lilith uncharacteristically relocates to Paris' massive river system, complete with submerged catacombs. Can Sophia, S.O.S. Sharks activist Mika (Léa Léviant), and river patrol sergeant Adil (Nassim Lyes) lead Lilith back to her regular saltwater habitat before a prominent in-water triathlon event that Paris' mayor refuses to cancel?

Under Paris should not be studied for its scientific accuracy. It's got big Piranha 3D or Shark Night energy, with added Geostorm and Ghostbusters political accents. Writers Yannick Dahan, Maud Heywang, and Mr. Gens make bombastic statements about governmental stupidity and environmental ramifications in the face of a dying planet thanks to humanity's carelessness. These messages hit like a novelty-sized pie thrown in a Looney Tunes cartoon, which can become a tonal hurdle given how the film otherwise attempts to play everything with a straight face. Silliness clashes against sincerity at odd climaxes, fitting moments that feel like puzzle pieces jammed into place with pounded fists.

Special effects artists are frequently called upon to render Lilith through animation, which doesn’t look half bad. Under Paris is a mixed bag of pixelated Lilith and practical effects, much like the highs and lows of Deep Blue Sea. Gens has to capture multiple underwater action sequences with an agile, quick-gliding torpedo of a shark. When the camera holds steady, drifting with a predatory curiosity, there's no issue—Lilith looks the part of a massive murderous mako. When thrown into a churning slosh of red waters and full-throttle lunges, it's like downgrading from a PlayStation 5 to a PlayStation 3. Take the good with the bad, but at least Gens offers constant glimpses of Lilith.

The thing is, even acknowledging the choppiness of Under Paris, it's still a frightening and action-packed shark attack movie. Claustrophobic catacombs recreate motions of exploring underground ruins in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, while land-based Parisian storytelling highlights a self-serving and greed-driven mayor who dooms innocents like Larry Vaughn in Jaws or Buck Gardner in Piranha. Throughout these ridiculous circumstances—including frequent reminders that the Seine River is filled with leftover World War artillery shells—Gens delivers everything we ask for from fin flicks: a violent aggressor, humankind's follies, and solid in-water cinematography. Under Paris knows you're here for the sharky-bitey-thrashy stuff and emphasizes these standout moments.

Gens is a student of the 2000s New French Extremity movement (his feature debut Frontier(s) helps define the subgenre), which inspires bloodbath frenzies. Lilith doesn't just drag a victim underwater; bodies are bitten in half and far worse. Under Paris has some shocking surprises in store that won't be mentioned here, and paramount on that list—in non-spoiler terms—is Gens' utilization of ultra-gory demises. Where lesser shark flicks hide deaths under the surface or behind bubbly walls, Gens confidently displays all the gruesome details. There's a solid body count between Mika's activist ranks and Adil's police force, but also ample tension when Lilith is simply lurking behind divers, calculating future attacks.

Under Paris isn't the most sensible Shark Horror example, but it's an absurdly entertaining experience. Ambitions aren't unlike a Hurricane Heist model, blending ridiculous ideas into an outrageous but strangely endearing concoction. It's a caricature of creature feature tropes executed with a fierce intensity littered with jabs at systemic societal failings and endangered innocents. What's left unsaid is why the film ultimately succeeds, better saved for personal discovery. Under Paris is infinitely more than just a goofy "mako in the Seine" idea that belongs on the SYFY channel—Gens makes damn sure.

Movie Score: 3.5/5

  • Matt Donato
    About the Author - Matt Donato

    Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Critics Choice Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.