Sympathy, Said the Shark (2015) is the second feature film by fellow Portalandian Devin Lawrence, which has attracted some attention due to its innovative multiple points of view.
Of course, the use of various POVs isn’t completely original. It has been done before, albeit usually poorly. Lawrence, executive producer Zak Bagans, and their crew were aided by use of the cutting-edge Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. However, if Sympathy, Said the Shark was merely an excuse to show off 21st century filmmaking technology, then it would only warrant coverage on software sites. Fortunately, Shark is of more value than that alone.
Lawrence and Bagans previously worked together in the paranormal “reality” series, “Ghost Adventures,” which began life as a documentary feature in 2004. Its popularity has keep it syndicated for twelve seasons. Seeing paranormal investigators on the duo’s film résumé hardly inspires enthusiasm for Sympathy, Said the Shark, but, not having seen the series, that could be a case of unjustified skepticism on my part, since the team’s first venture into narrative feature is surprisingly exploratory in a slick, kinetically-paced way. Some complaints have been lodged over its ambiguous title, with predictable charges of “pretension” leveled. I’ll digress here. The title is curious enough to inspire investigation, which is as it should be. It indicates that the filmmakers have learned a few things, in looking for dead people, about what makes for a compelling entry point. If Lawrence’ script writing and resulting film is not quite as risky or gutsy as its title, it goes a considerable distance in effort.
After some hardcore engagement, Lara (Melinda Cohen) and Justin (Lea Coco) are settling in for a rainy night when interrupted by a text message and knock at the door. Familiarity with Hitchcock, or any number of American filmmakers, tells us that answering the door is a precursor to mayhem—but what fun is common sense?
Within moments, we are subjected to the perspectives of both Lara and Justin, along with that of the bloodied, intrusive Church (Dominic Bogart). Time overlaps coincide with perspective shifts, giving the viewer alternative psychological assessments. Lawrence clearly likes these characters and, in that, he’s really more securely interrain, as opposed to Hitchcock, which is a good thing. With his postmodern sensibilities, De Palma has always been a warmer, more experimental, and more three-dimensional director than Hitchcock, to whom he is often compared (sometimes erroneously). As with De Palma, Lawrence does not allow his bag of tricks to overwhelm the narrative or characters (as Hitchcock often did). With conflicting perspectives come raging, emotional torrents, revelations, skeletons hurled out of closest, viable conspiracies, and additional threats to harmony.
Both the narrative and aesthetic of Sympathy, Said the Shark are guided by its emotional roller coaster. That requires solid actors, which the film provides. If Lawrence had distanced himself or taken a more objective approach, the minimally-plotted film would not have worked. Rather, he utilizes psychology to manipulate us, as any good filmmaker will, and we subscribe to his enthusiasm. All too often, experimental films can be vapid exercises. Lawrence, his crew, and cast succeed to a degree that his should be a name to watch. Sympathy, Said the Shark is a refreshing, promising start.