Just three days since summer has officially started and Sony Pictures is looking to keep you out of the water of your favorite vacation destination in the new film The Shallows. It was forty years ago that Steven Spielberg managed to start the shark movie trend with the first ever blockbuster film Jaws and after three arguably terrible sequels, Deep Blue Sea and Syfy channel’s Sharknado franchise the monster of the ocean has become a kind of joke as much as it’s still regarded as a killer. Director Jaume Collet-Serra is hoping to catch people softened by the campiness of those Corman-inspired B grade films with a simpler story of one woman versus a shark.
Collet-Serra is no stranger to the action thriller genre, having directed Liam Neeson multiple times in Unknown, Non-Stop and his last film Run All Night. Some may forget his suspense horror side which hit a level of confusion with Orphan but actually managed to be pretty effective with his Dark Castle remake of Vincent Price’s House of Wax. The film was the debut of the Barcelona-born filmmaker and showed that he had some pretty stylish chops. The Shallows is a definite show off of his acquired abilities since that 2005 introduction and proves that his command of suspense is still effective.
The film all centers around the stunning Blake Lively who plays Nancy, a med school student on vacation in Mexico with a friend. Dealing with the loss of her mother from cancer, Nancy travels to a secluded beach, driven by a local guide played by Oscar Jaenada (Cougar in the slightly underrated comic adaptation, The Losers). We slowly find out that this beach is deeply meaningful to both Nancy and her mother, as it was the beach that she frequented when pregnant with Nancy. Now, lost in grief and seeking direction, it’s unsure what Nancy is searching for there other than maybe a spiritual connection to her lost mother or just a surfing expedition in a picturesque location.
With two other local surfers already out in the ocean ripping around, Nancy grabs her board and sets out to catch some waves of her own. Surfing for hours, she decides to stay out for a bit longer after the two others opt to head for shore. This would prove to be an unforeseen mistake as she is bitten on the leg and pulled under the water. Struggling against the beast that is trying to devour her, Nancy scrambles for the little shelf of rock poking out of the water, two hundred meters from shore. The shark traps her there and it’s up to Nancy to deal with her substantial wound and survive the thing that is intent on erasing her from the planet.
There’s one thing that can be said about The Shallows, it’s gorgeous. Yes, obviously the main star Blake Lively shines in an almost Sports Illustrated bikini shoot through the majority of the film but every other shot, whether God’s eye view shot of the tide rolling into the beach or the myriad of underwater slow motion sequences, looks crisp and clean. Cinematographer Flavio Martínez Labiano has collaborated with Collet-Serra before on Unknown and No-n-Stop but will always be memorable to me for his work on the Spanish thriller Timecrimes. Visually he makes The Shallows really pleasing to watch on the big screen.
Being that the whole film is driven by one character having to deal with an antagonist who can’t share dialogue, this film largely rests on Blake Lively’s shoulders, who manages to do a great job with that responsibility. The script has the issue of having Nancy constantly speaking everything she’s thinking for the audience but that sort of just concedes with some mainstream narrative needs. There also is the added convenience of her being a medical student close to graduation for when she has to make a quick medical diagnosis and action after her first encounter with the shark. In order to have this not be a quick short of a woman getting massacred by a shark instead of the fight we see ensue, well, we just have to make some allowances I think.
An odd thought crossed my mind after watching this and I was thinking that The Shallows can be a date movie of sorts. We get a strong female character who constantly fights after being put in losing situation after situation in a vulnerable and difficult time in her life on one end of the spectrum. On the other side, we get the classic hero versus monster battle that this film eventually devolves into when the deep suspense ends and the real battle draws to a close. It may not be the perfect argument but it has some selling points.
The film Jaume Collet-Serra delivers is a simple film of surviving against the odds. It’s by no means, a perfect movie. Some parts may come off as dumb and the film hits the accelerator in the last fifteen minutes which detracts a bit from the pretty well plotted out suspense leading up to it. I think that more in The Shallows worked for it to elevate this movie to be an immersive thrill ride that knew exactly what it wanted to do for the audience. It gives us some Jaws reminiscent jump scares and most likely secures Blake Lively as one of the most beautiful actresses on the planet. I give The Shallows a three and a half out of five.