UK Release Date: 12th August 2016
Runtime: 86 minutes
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Writer: Anthony Jaswinski
Starring: Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen, Sedona Legge, Angelo José Lozano Corzo, José Manuel Trujillo Salas
Synopsis: A surfer riding the waves alone on a secluded beach must fight for her life when she is attacked by a hungry shark who has no plans to let her get back to shore alive.
When you make a film about a killer shark, you inevitably invoke the spirit of Steven Spielberg‘s Jaws, which might well be the greatest movie ever made. Or perhaps, in the modern world, it’s more likely that Sharknado is the first film that leaps to mind when you think of murderous fish. Shark movies in the 21st century are driven to embrace shlock and silliness above narrative sophistication. Riding that wave of simplicity is The Shallows, in which Blake Lively squares off with a fearsome predator.
Medical student Nancy (Lively) has dropped out of college to travel and visits a secluded beach in Mexico with the help of local driver Carlos (Óscar Jaenada). She meets a pair of local surfers and enjoys a day riding the waves with them in paradise. She calls her dad (Brett Cullen) and he criticises her for dropping out after the death of her mother. Nancy goes back in the water and is attacked by a great white shark when she stumbles upon the bleeding carcass of a humpback whale. She is able to escape and perch on a nearby rock, but the tide soon threatens to expose her.
The Shallows is a stripped-down, simple thriller that relies almost entirely on its central performance and the ability of its director. Blake Lively is up to the challenge, though, and delivers a committed turn that matches the similar solo work her husband Ryan Reynolds did in Buried, which Lively has said inspired her to take on the role. The camera does a fair amount of exploitation movie leering at Lively’s body, but it’s her MacGyver-like antics that are the film’s major driving force, as well as her surprising touching friendship with the wonderfully named Steven Seagull.
Jaume Collet-Serra, best known for his recent collaborations with Liam Neeson, brings plenty of flair to the direction, although not all of it is welcome. He gives the shark attack scenes an impressive sense of frenzied tension, aided by the addition of GoPro cameras in some of the sequences. He also uses Sherlock-style visuals to bring telephone messages and calls to life, as well as the watch that becomes Lively’s character’s only chance to predict the shark’s movements and keep track of the tide. These directorial flourishes help to add a sense of pace to The Shallows, but they also intrude on occasion when it might have been better to sit back and focus on Lively a little more.
The film’s main problem, in fact, is that it doesn’t give Lively enough time and space to showcase emotional range. Her relationship with her family is only thinly sketched in a couple of rather clunky dialogue scenes and this means we aren’t quite as behind her as we could’ve been, despite Lively’s relatable work. It would be wrong, however, to attach too much value to emotional stakes in what is essentially a B-movie and Collet-Serra certainly delivers the thrills in The Shallows. There’s a certain charm to the dodgy CGI, particularly in one ludicrous moment of animal gymnastics that almost got a cheer out of me in the cinema.
They don’t often make movies like The Shallows any more. It’s a no-frills thriller that pits its central performer against a malevolent natural threat. Collet-Serra doesn’t scrimp on the gore or the silliness, creating a ludicrous tale that, nonetheless, has moments of extreme tension and enough of a performance from Lively that the audience wants to see her best her fishy foe and emerge safely on dry land.
Pop or Poop?
It’s not Jaws, but it isn’t Sharknado either. The Shallows is a seafaring shocker that balances big thrills with a smartly measured and highly committed performance from Blake Lively. Jaume Collet-Serra’s direction sometimes gets in the way, but there’s a pleasing economy of storytelling and efficiency of thrills that keeps this going right until the bitter end.
Now when are we getting the Steven Seagull spin-off?
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.