THE SHALLOWS (8 out of 10) Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra; Written by Anthony Jaswinski; Starring Blake Lively; Running time 87 minutes; Rated PG-13 bloody images, intense sequences of peril, brief strong language, and frequent portrayals of violence involving animals with blood and wound detail; In wide release June 24, 2016.
“Jaws” hit theaters 41 years ago and ushered in the era of blockbuster summer films, effectively launched the career of Steven Spielberg, and also made legions of people all over the world scared to set foot in the ocean. Few movies have had this kind of global impact, so it’s safe to say that “The Shallows” doesn’t come close to evoking the same emotion and raw horror that its predecessor had. That’s not to say it’s a bad film. Far from it, “The Shallows” is taut, scary and draws on the fear of the unknown that might possibly keep a new generation out of the ocean.
Nancy (Blake Lively) a 20-something, med school drop-out is vacationing at her late mother’s favorite beach in Mexico. After spending some time trying to get her hungover friend to come with her, she decides to hit the waves to enjoy some solo surfing. As the day draws to a close, she heads out one last time only to be attacked and bitten by a great white shark. Bleeding profusely, she barely makes it to a small rocky island that has been revealed by low tide. Putting her medical skills to use, she cares for her wound as best she can but is now stuck in a death trap. She is stranded a few hundred yards from shore and the tide is coming in which will soon dump her back into the water to face the great white in its hunting ground.
“The Shallows” is clichéd and completely predictable. There are no twists to get in the way of the plot, and while that could detract from the experience of other movies, it actually works quite well here. Not every story has to be complex to be enjoyable, and the simple one being told about one woman’s fight against nature is completely engaging.
The biggest worry with a movie like this is that its entire success hangs on the balance of one actor’s performance, so if they don’t completely nail the part, everything is doomed. Blake Lively has no such issues and capably handles every moment of the film. Much like Tom Hanks did with “Castaway”, Lively performs with gusto and shows that she is a powerful force to be reckoned with in the acting world. Everything she does is believable and even just the quiet moments where she is trying to catch her breath and reclaim her strength is exciting and draws the audience in.
Of course our heroine needs a worthy adversary, and the CG shark works wonders as her nemesis. Director Collet-Serra wisely chooses to take the route of less-is-more by constantly keeping her and us in the dark as to its whereabouts. The camera bobs above and beneath the water, and the audience constantly strains their eyes through the sometimes murky depths for a glance of great white death. Its ever present threat provides tension not found except in the best horror movies, and more filmmakers should take note on how to create dread and terror so effectively.
My only minor quibbles are that the director seems as fond of slow motion shots as Michael Bay, and while they’re used to better effect here than any of his outings, they become tiresome as the film wraps up. That and the last 15 minutes completely change the tone and up the action to ridiculous levels. Considering how mostly realistic it had been until then, it’s a bit puzzling why it concludes this way.
No one will ever look back on “The Shallows” as a movie that’s even as remotely good as “Jaws”, but that’s not a bad thing. Full of tension, a few good jump scares and an incredible performance by Lively, it’s a perfectly fun summer film that will find its home as a favorite among survival horror and shark attack fans. Leaps and bounds above anything you’ll find on “Shark Week”, it will make you think twice about heading out into the waters this season.