The Shallows, 2016.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.
Starring Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada, Angelo Josue Lozano Corzo, Bret Mullen, Chelsea Moody.
A surfer is attacked by a great white shark a couple of hundred yards from the shore and must battle to get back to dry land.
“The best shark movie since Jaws” is a quote that gets plastered all over the posters of every shark movie released since the ’70s and, much like every possession movie that is supposedly ‘scarier than The Exorcist‘, they never are. That is because Jaws – and The Exorcist as well – is not a movie to be taken at face value; yes, there is a shark in it but the film overall is a character study with the shark serving as an incidental device enabling the three main characters to develop arcs and tell a compelling story. The Shallows follows in the tradition of every shark movie since 1975 and puts a person in peril against a huge beast and… that’s it. One person, one shark and 200 metres of water to cross to safety – where could it possibly go?
Downwards is where, in all senses of the word. The setup for the film is predictable and unoriginal but it does look fantastic, as Nancy (Blake Lively – Green Lantern) arrives at a secluded beach on the Mexican coast that her mother visited when she was pregnant. Nancy takes to the sea on the surfboard, rides a few waves and engages with the couple of local lads who are also surfing there but as the two guys leave Nancy insists on catching one more wave. As she waits for the wave to come the bloody carcass of a whale floats nearby, attracting all manner of nibblers including a great white shark that seems to be very hungry and can swim quicker than the now-injured Nancy, forcing the surfer to climb aboard the dead whale and work out the best way to get back to dry land before the tides decide for her.
So The Shallows is essentially a one-person-in-a-deadly-situation movie, and the shark angle is nothing new, especially when you consider that advances in CGI means that these kinds of movies are easier and cheaper to produce than ever before so we can have more of them in close succession. With that in mind you would hope that filmmakers would approach movies like this with an angle to adding something a little different to what we have seen before and The Shallows, if nothing else, is certainly the most visually striking monster movie in quite some time, with gorgeous cinematography showing off the contrast of the beautiful landscape with the deadly creatures that lurk beneath the surface with a stylish colour palette that wouldn’t look out of place in a video game. Unfortunately, despite it looking pretty cool, it is this stylistic choice – amongst other things – that removes any realism in the final act; slow-motion swimming through neon jellyfish does look amazing as a screensaver but given this is a movie supposedly trying to create tension, director Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax/Non-Stop) seems more content with lingering on Blake Lively’s wetsuit and easy plot conveniences rather than story or substance.
Not that The Shallows doesn’t have moments, which mostly come down to Blake Lively having to carry the film with a few scenes of emotional monologuing, her interactions with an injured seagull (amusingly called Steven Seagull) and any scene involving the shark, which does look surprisingly good considering how bad CGI sharks have looked in the past, although the CGI dolphins that have no real part to play are terrible. Despite being represented well visually, however, the shark’s actions are a little suspect as it really seems determined to get Nancy no matter what and displays behavioural patterns closer to a Terminator. At least it didn’t roar like the one in Jaws: The Revenge…
Clocking in at just under 80 minutes, The Shallows does come and go pretty quickly and doesn’t outstay its welcome. The tension never really gets very high and once Nancy finds the flare gun attached to a floating buoy then any semblance of reality seems to go out the window in favour of heightened – and often implausible – action, making a move that looks stunning and is reasonably entertaining but loses any real sense of danger as it veers dangerously close to fantasy. The best shark movie since Jaws? Nah, Jaws 2 still gets that honour and The Shallows, for all of its attempts to be more stylish and a little deeper(!) than your average killer fish film, is really only the best shark movie since the last one.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★