Maneater is the newest suspense-filled shark thriller leaning into the beloved genre that rose to popularity with Jaws.

In the film, Jesse (Nicky Whelan) goes on a tropical island vacation with her friends after her engagement falls apart. However, this idyllic getaway soon turns deadly when a killer great white shark begins hunting people in the water with Jesse and her friends as the next target.

The Illuminerdi had the opportunity to speak with star of Maneater, Nicky Whelan, about why she wanted to take on a shark movie, how Jaws influenced the practical effects, and her character finding her power. Nicky Whelan revealed during our interview that being in a shark movie has been on her acting bucket list for a while.

“It’s always, in my career, it’s gonna be really nice to say and tick off the box that I did a shark movie. Shark movies are coming out every couple years. Whoever is directing it or creating it has got a different take on it and this one came my way and I was like, ‘Yes, I’m gonna challenge myself and put myself in a shark movie. And go on this adventure.’ And I’m a water baby, I grew up in Australia. I was like, “Ok, let’s see what I can do with this.” So, that’s kind of what drew me to it.”

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Shark movies have become a fan favorite genre all their own with some movies leaning into the reality of shark attacks while others take a more intense or even campy approach to a fear that has been ingrained in humanity since Jaws. Maneater not only was inspired by Jaws in genre, but practical effects as well. Nicky Whelan revealed that not only was Maneater filming in only 18 days in Hawaii, but the crew used an actual mechanical shark instead of relying solely on CGI.

NICKY WHELAN REVEALS HOW MANEATER WAS INSPIRED BY JAWS PRACTICAL EFFECTS

“I said it before it’s the mechanical shark. I think one of the guys had spoken to one of the original people that had worked on Jaws and they were like, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t use a mechanical shark. It is a challenge.’ And I think Justin [Lee] really wanted to bring that realness to it because there is something exciting about going back to old school shooting and filmmaking and he wanted to bring that. And even though a CGI shark is used throughout the movie there are moments where we used the mechanical shark with the puppeteers.

Watching that process made me feel like I’m back in the 80s. This is how they used to do it. There’s a man slugging in the water with the shark and even though it’s such hard work and we’ve got 18 days to shoot this, it makes you work on a different level when you known you’ve got limited time and people holding up this enormous shark in the water. You’ve got to get done. And there’s a pressure and an intensity that’s brought to it that I really appreciated and now I can say I’ve been a part of that scene a little bit.”

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Practical effects have become more rare in filmmaking and the use of a mechanical shark, especially in an independent movie working with such a tight deadline, is an impressive way for Maneater to stand out. Justin’s ambitious decision also seems to have not only brought a unique experience both in front of and behind the camera, but according to Nicky infused the performances with an intensity as well. Nicky Whelan also talked about her character’s transformation over the course of Maneater from a heartbroken young woman to a heroic fighter.

“She starts out so fragile and broken going through this breakup and not even her friends could make her happy, you know, that super broken hearted girl. And then by the end of it she’s like, “Bring it on shark let’s go.” I mean, she goes from one extreme to another in a short period of time and I was like, “Yeah, she’s kind of a badass.” She’s lost everything at that point, her friends, her fiancé. What has she got to lose? She gets in the water and goes, “Let’s go. This is it.” It’s kind of kick ass power badass moment for her so I was like, let me see if I can pull this off.”

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Maneater is a fun new addition to the shark movie genre with practical effects, empowering character development, and a suspense filled thrill ride. Nicky Whelan’s excitement and passion is clear and the fact that she has been hoping to star in a shark movie makes her performance even more meaningful. Justin Lee’s insistence that they use the mechanical shark, even after being apparently warned off, shows his dedication and passion for this movie.

Maneater is available now on digital. Are you going to watch Maneater? Are you a fan of shark movies? What is your favorite part about shark movies? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on our social media ad check back with The Illuminerdi for more.

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