This is a very special review for me. Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you my favorite film of all time is a tie between Psycho and Jaws. I’d be hard-pressed to choose between the two (they’re like children!), but I saw Jaws when I was about five and it’ll forever hold a special place in my heart. Jaws is the first film, not just the first horror, I can remember seeing. It is the reason I love film, the reason I wanted to be a director my entire life, the reason I wrote an Oscar acceptance speech in my best friend’s yearbook senior year of high school. This film is perfect, and much like my review for Psycho, I have nothing bad to say about it. Jaws is the story of the New England town of Amity and the one summer a great white shark pays its tourists and residents a visit. The story is captivating, the acting is fantastic and the shark may just keep you out of the water for life.
Directed by Stephen Spielberg, Jaws is a cinematic masterpiece. It takes a perfectly believable story, i.e. shark attacks, and uses it to terrify the audience. Most people who watch this movie have been to the ocean or at least know what an ocean is and that sharks lurk there. The great white shark is a particularly scary shark and the thought of falling victim to a shark attack haunts many. I’ve seen a lot of shark films in the horror genre and they’re not all great. Or even close to great. This film pulls it off with a well-developed plot and amazing dialogue. The characters are fleshed (pun intended) out and captivating. It’s simply a great concept; New England town gets rocked by a shark one summer. This film has it all: the money-hungry mayor, the non-local police chief, the shark expert; the local fisherman. Toss in a ton of tourists, some great accents and memorable one-liners and you’ve got yourself an Oscar nominee.
Certainly worth mentioning is the cast of the film. Every single actor is incredible and most people remember who was in this movie even to this day. Each role is cast so well and belief in the story is not a problem. So often with horror films, it’s difficult to believe what you’re seeing on screen, but the acting in this movie makes that impossible. I believed everything - I believed it and I still believe it, 30 years after it was made.
Jaws received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture but lost to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. At least it lost to an amazing film. This movie is fantastic across all genres, but it also continues to wind up on the top five of every horror list. The shark in this film is terrifying - mostly because of the music that sounds while he lurks. To this day, people who haven't even seen Jaws at least know of the theme song. There’s no question viewers watching this film fear that shark. No question. The death sequences in this movie are created with an eloquence and grace reminiscent of Hitchcock. Blood and gore are used, but in the way they should, with thought and purpose. This isn’t a slasher film or a campy horror, but it is still horrifying. People die and fear spreads throughout the town of Amity like wildfire. As you’re watching this movie, you sit on the edge of your seat, worrying that the shark is just behind you. You are afraid until the very end, and maybe even after that.
A lot of audiences today may not think Jaws is a horror film. It’s not scary, they’ll claim. I disagree. This film is scary in the best way. It’s scary in the way that clings to you, years later. It’s scary when you’re swimming in the ocean and your mind wanders to the scene with the raft and all the blood. It’s scary when you feel something brush your ankle and jump in terror. It’s scary when you hear great white sharks were spotted off the coast of New England and you realize that shit can actually happen. Jaws is the standard horror should live up to - from the opening credits to the closing. The head, the tail, the whole damn thing.
If you liked Jaws, you might also like Jaws 3, Shark Night and Shark Week.