This Labor Day Weekend, when the beer supply taps out at your beachside house party, be thankful that a brew shortage is the holiday fiesta’s biggest buzzkill. It could always be much worse, as in the surrounding body of water has become a swimming pool for an army of hungry, pissed-off, and bloodthirsty fish with dorsal fins and mini-machetes for teeth.
That’s the premise behind Shark Night 3D, the unpretentious new action-horror flick from director David R. Ellis, most known for 2006’s infamous Snakes On A Plane and 2009’s 3D hit The Final Destination. Set at a lake house in Louisiana, Shark Night 3D revolves around a group of bikini-clad co-eds and their male college friends who check in looking for sunny good times but end up as chum-on-the-run; as it turns out, someone has filled the salt water lake with enough famished sharks to fill a large aquarium.
Central to the story is a mysterious newcomer played by Sara Paxton, whose family owns the house and might be connected to the shark onslaught in a more intimate way than just having the aquatic slayers all up in her personal space. The horror genre is nothing unfamiliar for Paxton, though; after starring in 2006’s family film Aquamarine and the ’08 comedy spoof Superhero Movie, the California native delivered a remarkably brave performance in the brutal 2009 remake of The Last House On The Left, enduring a visceral rape sequence that irked quite a few good taste pundits.
In Shark Night 3D, Paxton’s job is much less traumatic. Sporting a thumbs-up-worthy, blue two-piece bikini throughout most of the film, and lasting quite a bit longer than her doomed co-stars, the 23-year-old is Shark Night’s able-bodied heroine. Complex caught up with Paxton to chat about becoming a full-fledged authority on all things shark, how her movie differs from Piranha 3D, the dark side of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, and killer pigs.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Complex: Shark Night 3D has action, bikinis, and killer Great Whites, Hammerheads, and several other kinds of murderous sharks—how much more fun could a person have at the movies this Labor Day Weekend, right?
Sara Paxton: [Laughs.] Not much at all. It really is a lot of fun. I actually snuck into one of those test screenings that they do at local theaters, the ones where some guy stands outside of the theater, asks, “Hey, do you like movies?” and then gives a top-secret movie invite. They handed me the flyer, and I was like, “Oh, OK?” And then when it clicked that they had no idea who I was, I said, “Sure!” So I went.
It was a blast, too. There was not a silent moment in the theater. There was a group of girls sitting in front of me—they must have been in high school—and they were literally sobbing in fear, and then there was this group of guys sitting behind me who were fist-pumping and yelling out, “Yeah! Yeah!” It was constant. Shark Night is that kind of movie. If you go and just allow yourself to have a good time, it definitely delivers.
Seems like a total change of pace for you, considering that your last big screen project was The Last House On The Left, in which you had to act out a particularly brutal and realistic-looking rape scene. After Last House, were you actively looking for something a bit lighter?
Definitely, yeah. That movie was the most emotionally demanding thing I’ve ever done, and this one was sort of a departure. It’s sort of in the same genre, I guess, but I’d consider them as total different movies. This was a lot more physical, and I had to do a lot more stunts; I’d never done anything that was so action-packed. Believe it or not, Last House On The Left was actually a lot of fun to film, even though the entire movie is a total beat-down on the character psychologically; but, yes, Shark Night was more fun simply because it wasn’t so emotionally demanding.
Was that the main appeal for you when you first heard about the project?
It was around this time last year, actually. The director, David Ellis, called me directly because he’s a big fan of Last House On The Left, and he said, “I love that movie. Will you read this script? I’d love for you to read this script and come meet with me.” So I read the script, liked it, and met with him, and then he pitched it to me like this: “Listen, you’re going to a have a lot of fun. We’re going to train with Navy Seals, we’re going to go out to a lake house in Louisiana in the middle of summer, with a great group of people, and we all just want to have a really good time making a fun movie.”
Once he said that, I was like, “So, wait, let me get this straight—fun, action, stunts, and sharks? Sign me up.” [Laughs.] It wasn’t a tough sell for him at all.
Growing up in California, by the water, have you always had a fear of sharks, or at least an awareness that they can tear you apart at any given moment?
I grew up pretty close to the beach, yeah, and I’ve always been a little afraid of sharks, because, as a kid, I saw Jaws and it scared the living hell out of me. I was always watching the news, and the reports of water accidents would always freak me out. Lately, though, I feel like there have been…. And maybe I’m just more aware of these things because I’m naturally afraid of sharks, but I feel like, especially in the past year, these news stories about shark attacks have been popping up a lot. So, in a weird way, maybe Shark Night is topical. [Laughs.]
I don’t think there’s a single person out there, though, who can’t say that they’re afraid of sharks. I don’t know anybody who wants to go up and hug a shark. It’s like, hey, they’re prehistoric killing machines—what more do you need to know? [Laughs.]
And even if so, you’d need a really damn big pool.
[Laughs.] Exactly. It’d be way too much work. A real inconvenience.
Did filming Shark Night make you even more afraid of them?
Well, I definitely became more knowledgeable about sharks from making this movie, so, yes, I’d have to say that I’m much more afraid of sharks now as a result. Now, I know more about all kinds of sharks than I really want to know. [Laughs.] I’m kind of like a shark expert at this point. You’d be impressed.
They need to get you to host Shark Week next year, then.
[Laughs.] There you go. They wouldn’t even need to give me cue cards, I’d have all of the knowledge in my head already.
Shark Night is in no way educational, though—it’s an all-out slaughterhouse. The initial trailer played it really straightforward as a dark horror movie, but the recent commercials seem to play up the film’s lighter tone. And it’s directed by David Ellis, the man behind Snakes On A Plane. Would you say that’s more accurate of the actual movie?
Yeah, definitely. I don’t want to name names, but there have been other movies that have come out with 3D in the title that revolve around frightening aquatic animals….
Wait, let me guess…Piranha 3D?
So, as I was saying. [Laughs.] I think that this movie is different in the sense that we’re not making fun of the genre; the scares are real, but there’s also comedy and it doesn’t take itself too seriously all the way through. David Ellis has proven in the past few movies that he’s done that he’s really good at that balancing act, and he’s done a really good job with that in Shark Night, I think. You’re jumping out of your seat, but you’re also having a lot of fun.
And how can you not when, in one scene, a giant shark leaps out of the water and gobbles up a dude on a waverunner like it’s Pac-Man? I can’t say I’ve ever seen a shark do that before.
[Laughs.] Yeah. Well, definitely not a person, at least—probably with a seal.
The sharks themselves actually look pretty legit, even though they’re actually animatronic creations. Was it strange reacting to what’s essentially a toy shark that looks like it will genuinely rip your face off?
Yeah, man, they were really legit! I think that what’s great about this movie is that it’s not all CGI. I mean, of course we can’t have real sharks in the movie, so there is some CGI, but for the most part a lot of the action was done with super realistic, top-of-the-line mechanical sharks, which was great. That way, I wasn’t acting in front of a big red X; I’m in the water, I can’t breathe, and there’s a shark that looks really, really real next to me. They even had real sharks' teeth in them and they were accidentally biting people. [Laughs.] It was crazy. It was like we were actually working with real sharks.
The animatronic guys who made the sharks and controlled them are, like, super into sharks; they are the biggest Shark Week nerds ever. So they really wanted the movements and everything to be really authentic. I think audiences will be able to tell that it’s more realistic.
What’s cool about Shark Night is that it’s not just Great Whites—you’ve got every kind of shark out there.
When we were reading the script, it was interesting because, obviously, everyone knows Great Whites, Hammerheads, and Tiger Sharks, but there were all these other kinds of sharks in it that I had never heard of. And in the movie, they kill people in really crazy ways, so I guess, in some ways, the movie is sort of like a shark history lesson. [Laughs.] So maybe it is educational!
I stand corrected.
And what’s cool about it is that the other sharks don’t pop up until about halfway into the movie, so it’s a really good surprise for the audiences, because it’s not like, “Watch the Great White attack over and over and over again!” It’s more like, “And now, suddenly, there’s a different shark!” The audience will really like that.
Though, for me, I’m sorry but the scariest shark is still the Great White. I watch Shark Week, man! [Laughs.] I see those Great Whites fly out of the water and take those seals down, and I’m like, “Dude, I probably weigh as much as that seal, and I can envision my lifeless body flying through the air in that shark’s teeth,” and that’s a scary thought to have.
All of those When Animals Attack TV specials don’t help, either.
Seriously. And it’s like, people say, “So what, you die more from pigs every year than you do from sharks,” and I respond with, “Yeah, but do pigs tear my feet off? Are they going to tear my limbs off like a shark is going to? I don’t know, man!” I like my limbs—I want to keep them intact, thank you very much. [Laughs]
People really get killed by pigs?
Yeah, man! Look it up. People die more every year from falling coconuts than they do from sharks, and people die more from pigs every year than they do from sharks. Pigs are actually supposed to be very vicious animals; they have really big teeth. So, that being said, I have an announcement I’d like to make right here, to you exclusively: I’m actually gonna star in a new movie, it’s called Pig Night 3D. Look out for it sometime next year.
Sounds like something I’d absolutely pay to see.
It’s a hell of an idea, for sure. I need to make that happen. [Laughs.]
It really does sound like you’re a legitimate shark expert; those were some fascinating statistics.
Yeah, I kind of am. [Laughs.] Don’t act like you’re not highly impressed.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)