Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 22 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Sid Bennett
Written by: Charlie Foley, Vaibhav Bhatt & Sid Bennett
Starring: Sean Cameron Michael, Andre Wiedeman, Candice D’Arcy & David Soul
In October 1938, Orson Welles performed H.G. Wells’s WAR OF THE WORLDS on the radio. His broadcast was taken as fact by many who were gullible enough to buy into the fantastical story being spun to them. This audio program naturally inspired mass panic in dumbasses who couldn’t separate fact from fiction. In 2012, it seems that Animal Planet had run briefly dry of reality shows about rednecks hunting non-existent monsters and cat therapists with way too much time on their hands, so they took the Orson Welles route by making a fake documentary about MERMAIDS. Instead of being upfront with their mockumentary approach in an effort for good old-fashioned entertainment (like they embraced for a documentary about dragons), the network instead decided to do their damndest to sell this TV film as fact. Naturally, many gullible folks (far too many for comfort) bought into MERMAIDS being real and were pissed off when the documentary was revealed as an obvious sham.
This faux documentary focuses on scientists investigating a strange creature that washed up on shore after a sonar weapon experiment. Teenagers manage to capture footage of a similar creature on a different beach and another mysterious video surfaces of an obscure finned animal kept in a tank. A group of naturally discredited scientists (played by actors all of whom you can find on IMDB) perform an autopsy on the body of the creature and find that it might, in fact, be a mermaid. They reveal why our the government might be hiding the existence of mermaids as well as the much-maligned aquatic ape theory, and we are also given supposed audio communication between mermaids.
Not surprisingly, MERMAIDS caused much of an outcry and online ridicule after its initial airing. I distinctly remember reading a sarcastic article about it that made me chuckle quite a bit. THE BODY FOUND became Animal Planet’s second-highest viewed special since a Steve Irwin tribute. Despite the much-maligned response, the network even had the balls to produce a shameless hour-long follow-up special that aired in 2013. I began watching MERMAIDS with hopes that it might be an entertaining approach to a mythical creature in the same way that the first two seasons of Animal Planet’s LOST TAPES were quick and campy horror fun. However, MERMAIDS tries so hard to sell itself as a legit documentary that it forgets to have any fun along the way. This all results in a tedious experience that doesn’t feel as fun as it should be and is laughably bad in how it fooled certain people. Imagine how CLOVERFIELD might have felt if the characters kept breaking the chaos by looking into the camera and saying “This is real. It’s all real! Totally real and not just a movie made for your entertainment!” That’s exactly how watching MERMAIDS feels.
The technical aspects of this film are also pretty bad. Instead of focusing entirely on the mermaids, BODY FOUND spends way too much time on conspiracy theories as to why the government would be hiding mermaids. The performance of main scientist Paul Robertson by TV regular Andre Weiderman is stunted. Much like the documentary, Weiderman seems to be trying way to hard to seem authentic and not enough on having fun with the fantastical material being presented as fact. The production values are extremely cheap with silly-looking CGI renderings presenting various scenes of Mermaids at work (having a baby, hunting fish, migrating with whales, and facing off against a giant shark). Majestic music being placed over these moments (including one tune that you’ve heard used in many movie trailers) makes everything come off as unintentionally hilarious.
To make matters somehow even worse, MERMAIDS resorts to showing the same clips of “footage” over and over in an effort to merely fill time. We see one scene about four times total (two of which cut off before the pay-off that we all know is coming) and the mysterious tank video three times (two being placed back-to-back). This technique feels really cheap. While THE LAST DRAGON (Animal Planet’s dragon documentary) garnered a fanbase, MERMAIDS: THE BODY FOUND feels far too gimmicky and forced to have that many fans. The only moment of actual creativity comes in presenting “evidence” that humans are related to mermaids through various clips of different cultures and activities. It’s a shining glimmer of inspiration in an otherwise dull mockumentary. Do I believe that strange creatures unknown to man exist in the ocean? Absolutely, but that’s not the real point here. Is MERMAIDS: THE BODY FOUND entertaining, compelling or the least bit fun? Not at all. Just skip it and stick to Disney’s LITTLE MERMAID instead.