‘Meg’: Hell, monsters can be hilarious

In Photo: If the value of a film is to shock or terrify audiences, then Meg is a winner. There is terror in that scene of the creature unmoving, watching a little girl who is separated only from megalodon by the state-of-the-art viewing window of the research facility.

LAST Monday I was trying to catch some films featured in the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP). When I got to the mall in our city, where the cinemas are, all had already started. Besides, the film that I was looking to watch, after the cursory reviews of friends whose tastes I more or less trust, was not screening in that mall.

That film is Signal Rock, whose title never gives away its content. My friend, a film director, was raving about the unusual narrative of the film and felt the lead, Christian Bables, was a sincere actor, carrying the story to its compelling end.

That film though was in another mall. You see, our small city, like all cities in this country, has had its share of “mallization.”

I promised myself I would watch that film then. That moment, however, there was only one film whose screening had not started yet. It had a short title: Meg. Like Signal Rock, the title didn’t contain any giveaway. Well, except for the press releases, that title hung like some mysterious code. And so I asked, for curiosity’s sake, the young woman what is the film all about. She eagerly responded with a name: “Jason Statham.” Well, I know the actor, and it was 8 pm, and much too early to be home.

Meg is a film about a huge shark, so huge that its body fills the screen, or, rather, the filmmakers fill up the spaces on the screen to show how humongous indeed this creature is.

The story begins with Taylor, a diver, attempting to rescue scientists trapped in a crippled submarine. Deep down in the ocean, he sees a giant creature ramming the submarine. Fleeing the scene, Taylor tells everyone of a giant creature but no one would take his word.

Some years later, one character, Morris, meets up with Zhang, a scientist, and his daughter, Suyin, an oceanographer, in Mana One, an underwater research facility. In the depths of the ocean, a giant creature has bumped the submersible. A similar disaster is threatening to terminate the lives of the explorers again. Heading the mission is Lori, Taylor’s ex-wife. She is with two other individuals. Mac, one of the crews of the research facility, thinks the crisis is similar to what happened years ago with Taylor. Mac and Zhang then decide to look for Taylor to conduct the rescue the operation. When Zhang and Mac arrive in the facility, Suyin has opted to conduct the rescue. There’s panic in the facility.

Taylor has difficulties convincing the other crew members that he is the one fit for the job. But a doctor on the vessel finds him in perfect physical condition. Taylor is the man, indeed, despite the “attitude.”

Down there in the stalled submersible and Suyin’s own, Taylor encounters the being again. The huge creature rams once more the vessels. Taylor is able to rescue the crew but something happens.

Back in the facility with the rescued Lori and Suyin, Taylor is a bit vindicated. The creature is megalodon, a shark species considered extinct. It has, presently, no predator and can eat whales and the biggest of sharks. While discussing the Megalodon, they realize huge creatures from the depths have escaped through a space or a hole created in the trench after the submersible exploded. Apparently, there is what is called a thermocline, a layer in a body of water that separates different kinds of water temperature, a sort of thermal stratification.

The breach has allowed the megalodon to leave the depths and swim above.

If the value of a film is to shock or terrify audiences, then Meg is a winner. The first time we realize that the megalodon has already swum up to where human communities are near is terrifying. The terror is not in the anticipation but in that scene of the creature unmoving, watching a little girl who is separated only from megalodon by the state-of-the-art viewing window of the research facility. But the technology of the vessel cannot be pitted against a creature that comes from thousands of years ago. We know our technology but we can never know the nature of the beings from the depth.

One is tempted to compare Meg to Jaws but the comparison ends there, in the sea and in the sharks that populate it. Jaws creates suspense; Meg induces shock and surprise. I’m not saying the film is bad. The shot of the depths is terrifying even before any recognizable images come out. It’s as if we are not looking at the depths or the ocean; it’s as if the depths is looking at us, intently, scrutinizing us. The fear is there about the inner spaces of the ocean, which are explored but are never conquered.

We know that we will forever be strangers and outsiders when the depths of the ocean are concerned. And that’s scary. And that’s eternally threatening.

Believe me, Meg is scary. It’s when things become fun that you start to think there’s nothing else really in this film. The fun is at the expense of the Chinese, one of the most visible ethnicities in the global world at present. The scene is at Sanya Bay. Taylor and the scientists see the megalodon going to where the food is good and plentiful. A surplus of Chinese. The shot is lovely. From the top, we see these candy-colored figures; up close, they are men, women and children crowding the beach and the sea. From afar, the megalodon is swimming with all its Miocenic might and speed, as it heads to the direction of the happy and loud Chinese. At this point, we’re no more terrified than giddy and excited. Who can escape this giant? Who will survive? We ask the question not that we really care. We’re anticipating entertainment.

With Meg, B movies have surfaced once more.

Meg is directed by Jon Turteltaub, with the screenplay written by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Eric Hoeber. The story is loosely based on the novel Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten.

As for viewing Signal Rock, I will find time to finally watch it, perhaps to assure me there are still good films in the vast sea of indie cinema.

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