The ocean is a beautiful place filled with mystery. To some, it’s also filled with monsters. Since the era of exploration, man has put many faces on these monsters of the deep to represent their fear of the unknown. Justin Sago is a filmmaker with a passion for one of the sea’s most misunderstood residents: Sharks. Unmasking Monsters Below serves several purposes. On a high level, it is an exploration of the behavior of sharks and the people who love them. Diving deeper, the documentary serves to biographize those involved with the documentary, recording the history of their love of sharks and conservation activism.
This is definitely a film for Shark Week addicts. Frequent viewers of the Discovery Channel’s most popular programming will recognize a few faces and locations throughout the film. Justin’s quest to learn everything he can about the lives and behavior of sharks leads him from wildlife centers frequented by tourists to thrill-seeking freediving experiences with sharks and in-depth conversations with several noted shark conservationists. Through it all, Justin maintains a stance centered around education and observation. We hear dissenting points of view at several points, telling us that sharks are mindless killers, but the nearly hour’s worth of underwater footage in Unmasking Monsters Below reveals a different story. We see sharks as the stoic and elegant stewards of the gulf stream, dancing between shipwrecks and reefs with a flick of their powerful tails.
While sharks are the main focus of this documentary, several locations and Justin’s love of unique animals gives us a glimpse of other feared creatures such as spiders and alligators. As interesting as these asides are, they feel a bit disorganized in the larger documentary and end up lost among the beautiful footage and discussion about sharks. Perhaps underfeatured was the presence of oceanic conservationists who had survived shark attacks. The conversation with Debbie Salamone was particularly interesting, how she turned her misfortune into a greater drive to protect the predators of the deep. An entire documentary about these folks and their seemingly contradictory activism would be fascinating.
Education is at the forefront of Unmasking Monsters Below, but not just book learning. Justin and others experience close-up encounters with a number of shark species in various free dives throughout the documentary. Real-life observation and excellent recordings of these encounters give the viewer a chance to experience sharks like never before. Justin and others, like Joe Alves, the designer on Steven Speilberg’s famed Jaws and director of Jaws 3D, believe that fear-based ignorance can be easily dispelled by a little thoughtful education.
Dogs, cows, and spiders each cause more annual deaths than sharks, yet the presence of two of these animals rarely sends people scampering in fear. Perhaps if we could all swim with the sharks, we could better understand their silent intelligence and vulnerability. Unmasking Monsters Below gives the viewer the next best thing –a front-row seat to cage-free shark dives with consistently impressive and nearly Discovery Channel quality footage. This documentary is a must-watch for every shark lover.