Review: Horror Filmmaker Eli Roth Digs into the Scary Reality of the Illegal Shark Trade in Fin

For his latest film, horror maestro Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, the Hostel movies, The Green Inferno) has decided to explore a very different type of horror with his documentary Fin (part of the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week”), which profiles a collection of marine biologists, researchers, activists around the world, all working to halt the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of millions of sharks per year, including the poaching of endangered species.

Image courtesy of Discovery+

Certainly feared (thanks in large part to Hollywood movies and, if we’re being honest, television events like “Shark Week”) but also deeply misunderstood, sharks have recently become a primary environmental cause for celebrities and activists alike (Leonardo DiCaprio executive produces the film along with actor, producer and shark activist Nina Dobrev), and Roth places himself in front of the camera, often in dangerous situations (with humans, not sharks) to call attention to the ridiculous, vanity sale of shark fins (for soup), shark liver oil (often used in various makeup products), and shark meat (frequently mislabeled as artificial crab or other fish). Working with photographer Michael Muller, Roth is effectively making a movie about his own journey to discovering the true beauty and value of sharks to the greater world under the ocean, admitting that, growing up, the only thing that scared him were sharks.

Fin takes us from the coastal shores of western Africa to Hong Kong to the Bahamas, attempting to locate the greatest offenders in this frequently criminal enterprise. He climbs aboard a notorious illegal fishing vessel; confronts fin traders who argue that since the whole shark is used for various products today, banned shark fin soup wouldn’t curb the killing of sharks; and joins small-town fishing communities who catch sharks in small motorboats just for their fins, throwing the carcasses back into the ocean often while the shark is still alive. For the faint of heart and stomach, make no mistake: this is a bloody, graphic film that illustrates some truly atrocious, brutal behaviors that turn even a seasoned horror veteran into a quivering mess, stunned into silence at what he witnesses.

At first, I wasn’t quite sure if I would take to having Roth be so much a part of Fin, but he’s good at asking tough questions and adventurous enough not to worry about his own safety the entire time. Are there a few overly dramatic reaction shots of him? For sure. But it feels like most of them are genuine, and he’s personable enough to ease the worries of certain subjects about being on camera, talking about things that could make them targets. And his horror credentials also bring him face to face with cult hit Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky director Ngai Choi Lam, who is now a food critic in Hong Kong and has a great deal to say about shark fin soup. The information in Fin might not be entirely new or eye-opening, but Roth’s unflinching gaze and breadth of knowledge make the movie feel comprehensive

The film is now streaming on Discovery+.

Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.