The Shallows, 2016.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.
Starring Blake Lively.
A mere 200 yards from shore, surfer Nancy is attacked by a great white shark, with her short journey to safety becoming the ultimate contest of wills.
The Shallows director Jaume Collet-Serra isn’t a well-known name to mainstream audiences, but he is beginning to slowly make a trademark for himself by crafting fun stylized Hollywood exercises often confined to an isolated location (Non-Stop saw Liam Neeson trying to figure out who was pulling the strings on a hijacked plane), and with The Shallows he has essentially taken Blake Lively, tossing her on a rock (and eventually a buoy) 200 yards from shore but with a bloodthirsty great white shark patrolling the waters.
The how and why of all this is incredibly generic and cliché; Nancy (Blake Lively) is visiting a secluded beach in Mexico (which is actually just beautiful Australia here), because that’s where her mother went when she found out she was pregnant with her, or something of that nature. Now, the mother has recently passed away after seemingly fighting a deadly terminal illness, meaning that part of the grieving process for Nancy is seeking out this beach of sentimental importance for herself, and riding some high tide waves in the process. Even when the movie clearly starts bringing out themes of facing your fears and never giving up, it never feels genuine or honest, but rather just threadbare reasons to get the incredibly beautiful actress out there in a bikini fending for her life stranded on open waters.
Where the movie succeeds is its survival aspect; Nancy must use her knowledge in the medical field (gee, how convenient for this perilous situation) to stitch up her leg after the initial attack, find ways to keep blood flowing and circulating in the leg, and generally stay sane by befriending a wounded seagull. It also helps that her performance is surprisingly rather good, putting emphasis on all of the struggle and pain. Watching The Shallows is kind of like watching Castaway meets Jaws.
Sometimes Nancy (and especially the very few minor supporting characters) make the usual dumb decisions to be expected from a horror type affair, but for the most part viewers will get the sense that she is a real person performing some realistic survival tactics to stay alive. As a matter of fact, that is how you know The Shallows is a decent enough film; the danger is brought to life well enough and seriously portrayed to the point where you don’t actually want the shark to win.
Another pleasant surprise is that although the antagonistic deadly shark is all CGI, the special effects bringing it to life look strikingly real. At the same time, it is still obviously fake with most of the movie being produced on a sound stage with green screen backgrounds, which is normally something that would grind my gears to no end, yet here never once bothered me thanks to the reliable execution. What also works for the movie is that visual sights of the shark are used sparingly, with more focus being centered on the grim aftermath of his/her few victims throughout the hellish experience. There isn’t really any in-your-face shark action until the climactic showdown/final fight for survival.
At the lean running time of 86 minutes and factoring in that there isn’t much story to begin with, I’m already running out of things to talk about regarding The Shallows, but it is an effective open water thriller highlighting survival and capable acting. It is exactly what it is advertised as; nothing more and nothing less. It is perfectly serviceable summer popcorn entertainment.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★