Under Paris

Under Paris
Original title:Sous la Seine
Director:Xavier Gens
Running time:101 minutes
Release date:05 june 2024
Summer 2024, Paris hosts the world triathlon championships on the Seine for the first time. Sophia, a brilliant scientist, is alerted by Mika, a young activist devoted to ecology, to the presence of a great shark in the depths of the river. They have no choice but to team up with Adil, commander of the river police, to prevent a bloodbath in the heart of the city.

Mulder's Review

Xavier Gens' Under Paris is nothing less than an undeniable success in the field of shark horror films. From its captivating script to its remarkable special effects and excellent performances, this film really deserves to be discovered, and we're sorry we weren't able to see it in the cinema on a huge screen, as it's so much like a French blockbuster. The film stands proudly as the best shark movie since Steven Spielberg's cult classic Jaws, reinvigorating a genre that has seen many imitators, but few true innovators.

The film opens with a sequence set in the Pacific Ocean, where we are introduced to marine biologist Sophia, played with remarkable depth by the superb Bérénice Béjo. The scene is captivating, featuring Sophia's team's encounter with the enormous shark Lilith. This encounter isn't just a harmless action scene; it's a crucial moment that sets the emotional and narrative tone for the rest of the film. The tension is palpable as Sophia watches in horror as her team, including her husband, falls to Lilith's blows. This sequence is a real visual and emotional punch, demonstrating Gens' ability to blend action with deep, character-driven storytelling. It also highlights the dangers of pollution and disregard for the natural environment.

Sophia's journey is at the heart of Under Paris. Bérénice Béjo delivers a portrait of a woman haunted by a past trauma, but driven by a strong determination to protect others from the same fate. The evolution of her character, from reluctant survivor to proactive heroine, is both credible and inspiring. Bérénice Béjo's performance is full of subtlety and strength, making Sophia a memorable and endearing protagonist. In a way, she reminds us of Sigourney Weaver in Ridley Scott's Alien (1979).

The cast of Under Paris is simply perfect. Nassim Lyes (already seen in Xavier Gens' previous film) brings a solid intensity to the role of Adil, the river policeman, whose pragmatism and bravery make him a convincing counterpart to Sophia's emotional journey. Léa Léviant's portrayal of passionate activist Mika adds another layer to the story, underscoring the often complex and sometimes contradictory motivations behind the fight against environmental destruction. The supporting cast, including Sandra Parfait, Aksel Ustun and Anne Marivin, deliver solid performances that enrich the story and add depth to the ensemble.

Special effects are one of the film's strong points. The depiction of Lilith, the shark, is a successful blend of CGI, VFX and practical effects. Xavier Gens wisely uses a “do less” approach, keeping the shark in the shadows for most of the film, which only heightens the sense of dread and anticipation. He proves himself to be a gifted pupil of Steven Spielberg, following in his footsteps but also understanding what it means to be a shark film and not a pale copy lacking in originality.

 When Lilith appears in full light, the impact is profound. The creature is both majestic and terrifying, a true embodiment of nature's fury. The underwater scenes are filmed to perfection, the catacomb sequence being particularly striking. This scene, set in the labyrinthine tunnels beneath Paris, is a thrilling, claustrophobic moment that is sure to hold the audience's attention. The feeling of claustrophobia is palpable on screen.

Under Paris is more than just a creature feature, it's a film with a powerful message. Drawing parallels with Jaws, the film criticizes political apathy towards public safety and environmental issues. Lilith, the shark, is not just a mindless predator, but a symbol of nature's wrath against human irresponsibility. This metaphor is woven throughout the story, making the film as challenging as it is exciting. The film's focus on climate change and environmental degradation is timely and poignant, adding a layer of depth that elevates it above typical genre films. Parallels could easily be drawn with Alexandre Aja's Piranha 3D by the violence of certain scenes and the great care taken with special effects and a solid cast.

The action sequences in Under Paris are meticulously designed, offering a perfect blend of horror and excitement. The film takes full advantage of its unique setting, featuring dramatic confrontations against iconic Parisian landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and the Seine. These sequences are not only visually impressive, they also form an integral part of the story, driving the narrative forward at a relentless pace. Nicolas Massart's photography is remarkable, capturing the beauty and danger of the underwater world with stunning clarity.

Pacing is another of the film's strong points. From the intense opening scenes to the harrowing climax that delivers on all its promises, Under Paris maintains a steady pace that captures the viewer's attention. The music perfectly complements the film's tone, reinforcing the suspense and emotional weight of each scene. The script, co-written by Yael Langmann, Olivier Torres and Yannick Dahan, is tightly constructed, balancing character development with action and thematic exploration.

The film's commitment to realism and detail is evident in every frame. The underwater photography is particularly remarkable, capturing the eerie beauty of the submerged Parisian tunnels and the terrifying presence of Lilith with equal skill. The practical effects and stunts are equally impressive, adding a tangible sense of danger and authenticity to the action scenes.

The performances of the entire cast are uniformly excellent. Each actor brings his character to life with authenticity and intensity. Anne Marivin, in particular, stands out in her role as a politically motivated character whose decisions exacerbate the crisis. Her performance is both exasperating and fascinating, adding a new layer of complexity to the story. The dedication and physicality required for the underwater scenes are commendable, and testify to the actors' commitment to their roles.

Under Paris is one of Xavier Gens' finest films to date, setting a new standard for shark horror. It combines a captivating story, outstanding performances and breathtaking special effects to create an unforgettable visual experience. By addressing contemporary issues through its storytelling, it resonates deeply with modern audiences. For fans of shark movies and thrillers, Under Paris is a must-see. Not only is it the best shark movie since Jaws, it's also a powerful reminder of the impact of human actions on the natural world and the urgent need for change. Finally, by setting the action during an Olympic Games event and showing the difficulties of Paris City Hall in keeping the Seine clean, the film reinforces its power and makes us want a sequel like Steven Spielberg's Jaws.

Under Paris
Directed by Xavier Gens
Produced by Sebastien Auscher
Written by Yannick Dahan, Xavier Gens, Maud Heywang, Yaël Langmann
Starring Bérénice Bejo, Nassim Lyes, Anne Marivin, Aurélia Petit
Music by Alex Cortès, Anthony d'Amario, Edouard Rigaudière
Cinematography : Nicolas Massart
Edited by Riwanon Le Beller                        
Production companies : Netflix
Distributed by Netflix
Release date : 5 June 2024 (France)
Running time : 101 minutes

Viewed on June 3 2024 (Netflix press screener)

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