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'Under Paris' is a Seine-sational French shark movie

 Sharks in the Seine — <em>mon dieu!</em>
Sofie Gheysens
Sharks in the Seine — mon dieu!

I will be the first to admit I didn't even know there was a French shark movie until I saw it appear at the very top of Netflix's top 10 movies. And it's not as if it's hiding anything about its topic: It's called Under Paris. You know why? Because it's all about sharks under Paris. Specifically, it's about sharks in the Seine. Initially, there are just a couple of sharks. But then, there are a lot of sharks. And the movie is apparently an enormous hit, although/because it is, while not as silly as Sharknado, very silly.

Under Paris (aka, to me at least, Sharknadeau) begins as a standard menacing-creature story. Sophia (Bérénice Bejo, Oscar nominee for The Artist) is a scientist studying sharks in the vicinity of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (a real, depressing thing). She and her team get a signal from one of their tagged sharks, named Lilith, and several members of the team go on a dive to obtain a blood sample. This dive does not go well (I mean, I suppose it goes OK for Lilith), leaving Sophia traumatized.

A few years later, a shark-saving group in Paris alerts Sophia that they know where Lilith is: in the Seine. Now, sharks in the Seine are not a real thing, but perhaps the only upside of climate change is the expansion of options for disaster movies. After all, a movie like this can throw its hands in the air and say, "Honestly, you don't know what's possible now that you can go to the beach on Christmas, do you?" So: sharks in the Seine. Not just that, but multiplying sharks in the Seine.

Bérénice Bejo stars as Sophia, a shark scientist.
Sofie Gheysens / Netflix
Bérénice Bejo stars as Sophia, a shark scientist.

Of course, Paris has an arrogant, careless mayor who, like all government officials in shark movies, suffers from a pathological failure to be adequately afraid of sharks. She has only one priority: making sure that the upcoming triathlon goes off without a hitch. That's right: The Seine is infested with ravenous sharks at the very moment when crowds of swimmers are about to throw themselves into the Seine at a highly public event. Mon dieu! Now, if it were you or me, perhaps we think to ourselves, "Better to cancel the event in advance than have it canceled on account of all the swimmers being devoured," but no, the mayor of Paris has no such caution.

For the first half or so, Under Paris unfolds like a fairly classy suspense film about a rarely seen threat. It does not look cheap in the way Sharknado did, for instance. It's quite competently shot and edited, it's tense, and it's frightening. In other words, it gets the job done.

In the second half, the movie goes fully bazoo. Certain arguments about the sharks' intentions are resolved when some participants in those arguments are eaten. You get your first of a couple of overhead shots of a shark leaping out of the water, mouth first, the better to show you someone in its jaws (heh) who is thinking, "This seems bad." Crowds run in terror. Blood gushes. If you are watching the movie in the original French (which I recommend) and you have the English subtitles on, you will see a lot of the caption "[panicked screams]."

All this to say: It's not hard to understand why this is such a hot property at the moment. It gives you half of a fairly normal movie and half of an absolutely wacky one. About half of it is suspense, and about half of it is full-on creature horror, incredibly bloody and with a very (very) high body count. And at the end, there's no question that just as these sharks are under Paris, the next ones will be under London (or New York, or wherever). If you're looking for a popcorn movie and you don't mind a lot of cartoonish gore, you could do a lot worse.

This piece also appeared in NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter so you don't miss the next one, plus get weekly recommendations about what's making us happy.

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Copyright 2024 NPR

Linda Holmes
Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.