Horror icon Eli Roth travels the globe to uncover the terrifying truths of shark fishing in his best and scariest film yet
Eli Roth has long since established his taste for hyper violent and grindhouse inspired horror. With films like Cabin Fever, Hostel and others, the filmmaker helped usher in a new wave of absurdly grisly and gross exploitation entertainment, always in search of pushing buttons and shocking audiences. Love or hate his work, he’s made his mark on the scene.
It’s been three years since his last pair of films (a remake of Death Wish and a surprising turn to family entertainment with A House With a Clock in Its Walls) and it appears Roth has discovered a newfound interest in conservation and documentary filmmaking. His new film, aptly titled Fin, finds him partnering with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way Productions as well as discovery+ to investigate the callous and catastrophically unsustainable world of shark fishing.
Roth begins by talking a bit about himself, going through his love for horror movies from a young age that sparked a career and how, more than anything, sharks are what terrified him the most. The first step in saving the dwindling shark population is ensuring that the stigma attached to them from entertainment like Jaws is removed and replaced by the knowledge that these are actually beautiful and vital creatures that deserve our care and respect. It’s a lesson that Roth learned himself when he was invited to host Discovery’s Shark After Dark and took part in his first shark dive, where he swam with the surprisingly gentle giants, experienced how social they could be, and witnessed how they have very little interest in actually chomping on humans.
Correcting misconceptions about these animals is only the very tip of the iceberg, however. Shark numbers have been in a massive and rapid decline the past few decades due to overfishing, a global issue that’s been destroying aquatic life in general. Over 100 million sharks are slaughtered each year, a staggering number, and that’s only what’s officially reported. A large amount of illegal fishing occurs daily as well, leading Roth and his crew to piece together the vast network of criminal fishing syndicates that have decimated the ocean’s wildlife.
The journey takes them to Mexico, where local fishermen catch sharks (four boats can kill up to 500 a day) to sell their fins to larger companies who they refuse to name on camera. The fins are taken to Hong Kong, the central hub for the shark trade, and it’s here that they’re used for shark fin soup, a meal that’s considered to be a delicacy and is priced as such. What Roth and his squad of activists and conservationists discover is that the soup is truly no more than just a way to flaunt class and status – the food itself is bland, an imitation version of it tastes exactly the same, and even food critics consider it to be a poor meal. The fact that hundreds of millions of sharks are barbarically killed for something so pointless boggles the mind.
The good news – what little there is – is that the soup is falling out of popularity, especially among the younger generations. But while that particular business may be in decline, Roth’s team is told by merchants (at least the only ones who agree to speak to them rather than kick them out of their shops) that the shark trade isn’t slowing down anytime soon. There’s an increasing demand for fishermen to bring in the whole shark, not just the fin, as other parts of their bodies are used for similarly trivial things like cosmetics and supposed medicines – none of which have any basis in actual science.
Fin, like most nature and animal documentaries nowadays, can feel overwhelmingly bleak at times. The sheer amount of sharks that are being killed is almost immeasurable and the impact that their absence has on the ecosystems they’re a part of is cataclysmic. Sharks do not reproduce very much or very often, and it takes them a significant amount of time to reach maturity. All of this overfishing is horrifyingly unsustainable, and doesn’t just harm the sharks or the oceans. The documentary is sure to highlight the negative effects the shark trade has on people as well; how rich and powerful companies pillage the livelihoods of more impoverished communities that rely on fishing, emptying out their supplies and then moving on to the next unlucky location. And that’s not even mentioning how many of the people forced to do the dirty work are basically enslaved.
Roth’s journey to uncover the truth behind the shark trade goes to dangerous and unsettling places (the film’s climactic moment involves him boarding a rusty ship that’s filled to the brim with illegal shark carcasses and angry fishermen) and in true horror fashion, it never shies away from the more gruesome and gut-churning aspects of its subject matter. The mass butchering of these majestic animals is often difficult to witness, even for a splatter and gore aficionado like Roth himself, but part of the film’s power comes from the uncensored view of the cruelty of it all. But Fin still manages to end on a note of tepid hope for the future, and its emphasis on the work of individuals who have dedicated their lives to exposing harsh truths and stopping the slaughter are when the documentary truly shines and is at its most engaging. It’s a scary but rousing call to action.
‘Fin’ is now streaming exclusively on discovery+.