by Alberto Sclaverano for Citiplat
Eli Roth is an American actor and director whose name is normally associated with (very) gruesome horror movies, such as Cabin Fever (2002), Hostel (2005), and The Green Inferno (2013). He is also a friend ad a frequent collaborator of Quentin Tarantino and played one of the main roles in Tarantino’s famous war epic Inglorious Basterds (2009). Ironically, Roth’s most successful film to date, both critically and commercially, is a family film, the dark fantasy tale The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018). Roth has always been interested in environmental and animal activism, especially concerning the protection of endangered wildlife. This led Roth to realize for Discovery+ the documentary Fin (2021), which has Leonardo DiCaprio, always interested in social issues, as one of his executive producers. Roth described Fin as the most terrifying film he has ever made. Considering his background this seems like a joke, but in fact, it is true.
Fin is a documentary about the global, mostly illegal, shark finning practice and associated industry. While it has been banned by 27 countries (including the USA) and the whole European Union, it remains a common practice due to the high demand for shark fin soup. It is mainly consumed in Eastern Asia, especially in China, by locals and wealthy Western tourists.
Finning is a very cruel practice. As explained in the film, only the fins are cut from the shark, which is then released to die in the ocean, because their meat is not edible/valuable sharks are among the most ancient living organism on the planet, and their presence is essential to the marine ecosystem. And yet the sharp increase in finning since the 1970s is leading to a global massacre, with 70 to 100 million sharks killed every year just for their fins: Earth lost 70% of its sharks’ population in the last fifty years.
Following the typical “Al Gore documentary style” as we have been accustomed to since An Inconvenient Truth, Roth travels all around the world, and talks with scientists, activists, fishers, and restaurant owners. He gives us data and information about this silent shark’s mass extermination. The film style is probably less sophisticated than other similar documentaries, but the message remains spot on. Even if the directors could not be more different, the themes are not much different from the ones explored in Hubert Sauper’s Darwin's Nightmare. Fin too is a documentary about the dark side of globalization and modern capitalism. It explores a shadow world fishing industry, as cruel and barbaric in its method as it is remunerative on the purely economic side because sharks’ fins are among the most expensive food in the world. There is a vast global trade market dedicated to sharks’ fins hidden behind our eyes, and the heavy restriction enacted by countries do not seem to have weekended it. What we can do is try to sensibilize people about this sad reality.
The best moments of Fin are the ones in which Roth opposes beautiful shots of sharks leaving in their natural habit to the devasting images of mass slaughtering they are subjected to by fins hunters. The movie is indeed the most horrific work in Roth’s career, and it makes its previous hardcore horror movies tame in comparison. Fin can be called a “direct grip on reality” horror film. But the shock here comes less from what we see, even if some scenes involving shark finning can be quite disturbing, and more from the thoughts it can inspire in us.
Fin is a useful viewing experience, even if it is not a pleasant one. It shines a light on a dark aspect of today’s globalized world and calls for change. Sometimes we need to know that such horrible things like shark finning exist to stop them.