AFM: ‘Wyrmwood’ Director Kiah Roache-Turner Plots WWII Shark Thriller ‘Beast of War’

AFM Hidden Gem: Playing the Deadliest Game of “The Floor Is Lava” in WWII Shark Thriller ‘Beast of War’

Another American Film Market, another swarm of shark movies vying for attention amid the B-movie plankton. But swimming past the multi-headed shark attacks, the sharks-meet-extreme-weather-conditions franchises and the shameless attempts to cash in on The Meg 2’s box office coattails, one new shark title appears to be lurking in somewhat classier waters. 

Beast of War — being sold at the market by Cornerstone, the Brit banner behind generally prestige fare (they’re also shopping Mike Leigh’s next feature) — comes from Australian filmmaker Kiah Roache-Turner, director of the Mad Max-meets-zombies film Wyrmwood and its sequel Wyrmwood Apocalypse. The story, loosely based on real-life events, follows a group of WWII soldiers stranded in the ocean after their warship is downed by Japanese fighter jets and find themselves up against that classic underwater foe, a great white. 

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Like every great shark movie, Beast of War began life when Roache-Turner’s producer called him up one day to tell him he had access to a water tank in Malta and ask if he had any ideas for aquatic films that could use it. 

“So I immediately went, well, it’s got to be a shark film, because what else is it gonna be?,” Roache-Turner explains. “And the only shark film I’m interested in seeing is the USS Indianapolis speech from Jaws made into a film.” As any Nicolas Cage fan will know, there was a film about the USS Indianapolis, the famed WWII cruiser ship that was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and saw its survivors face shark attacks while stranded in the ocean, in 2016’s USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage. “But it wasn’t a lot of fun,” admits Roache-Turner, who also knew he wasn’t going to get the sort of budget required to do his own retelling. His film had to be much smaller scale.

“I thought it had to be Australian, so I did about two seconds of Google searching and found the story of the HMAS Armidale that sank off the coast of Western Australia, halfway between Darwin and Timor,” he says. “It was the same story — ship goes in the water, no distress signal sent, lots of poor Aussie guys doing amazingly heroic things, some were killed by sharks and many were never seen again.”

Roache-Turner had his starting off point, and dived into the research to find out exactly what happened. “But I got to the end of the research and realized I couldn’t do a historically accurate version as it would just be too bleak.” Instead, he took the inspiration route, loosely basing Beast of War on those events but wanting to make an “unashamedly fun shark film.”

Beast of War also has horror in his roots, with Roache-Turner having doubled down on the genre in recent years (he’s only just finished arachnid horror Sting, also being sold by Cornerstone). “For some reason, I’m good at scary stuff and, to me, what’s scarier than legs in the water and huge teeth coming up to drag you under?”

Beast of War’s giant hydraulic-powered animatronic shark is currently being put together by Paul Trefy, who built the shark used in Unbroken (“I actually thought they used a real shark, which is just the stupidest thing,” admits Roache-Turner). “I’m not super worried about it being realistic — I want my shark to look like a monster, so we’re working on the look of the thing. It’s had its eye stabbed out and has had a series of fights with propeller blades so is all cut up, and has zombie-like broken teeth… so when that face comes out of the water it’s going to be really full-on.”

Roache-Turner’s plan is to use the wreckage from the sunken ship as the film’s key sets for the action, with debris floating in the water and oil and blood creating shadows from which the shark can emerge.

“If you’ve got a bunch of people trapped on a rock in the middle of the ocean, there’s nowhere for them to go,” he says. “So my theory is that if I put all this debris around them, we can create set pieces and they’ll have to jump from platform to platform and try to avoid the teeth from below.”

For anyone still trying to picture how this might work on screen, Roache-Turner has a handy comparison.

“It’s basically going to be the scariest game of The Floor Is Lava.”