The Shallows surprised me. I figured it to be a hackneyed star vehicle that showed off Blake Lively’s ample talents while a bunch of brown people die to save her. And while it does feature an attractive starlet who isn’t known for her acting prowess, and the only people who die are brown (it’s because they’re in Mexico guys), The Shallows is much better than a hackneyed star vehicle. The film is a straightforward but strong survival thriller.
The plot is simple and effective at drawing you in. Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) is an attractive med student who is looking for a secret beach in Mexico that her mother told her about. Upon finding it, she proceeds to surf until a great white shark (The Shark) shows up to wreck her day. From there, the film turns into one of survival for Nancy, as she must either outlast or outwit the shark before high tide sets in or she dies from exposure.
The direction taken by Jaume Collet-Serra should be applauded for not wasting time. The first third of the film establishes Nancy’s raison d'etre and why she wants to see this beach so badly. The film also explains why The Shark has shown up with ease. No B.S. long convoluted explanations or backstories, just Blake Lively Vs. a Shark, and that’s kind of refreshing. Although, to be fair, and not that I am complaining, but Collet-Serra has an almost fetishistic love of Lively’s body. Much of the first third of the film highlights this as she slowly undresses into a revealing bikini, or the many slow motion shots of her at a revealing angle as she goes about surfing.
Lively herself brings her A-game to The Shallows. I’ve never considered her a great actor, but she does a fantastic job in this film. Initially, she comes across as an inept American wandering around Mexico. But the more we learn about her and what she has lost, (and is put through) the more you root for her to survive her desperate struggle. Furthermore, she basically talks to herself the entire film. Her main co-star for most of the movie is an adorable Seagull with a broken wing. If you have any heart at all you will hope he survives as much as she does.
The Shark is the best part of the movie. It’s an effective horror movie villain, terrifying, menacing, hungry, and has impeccable timing. The film itself is rated PG-13 and much of the violent eating/attacking happens off screen, but this doesn’t diminish the effect of terror the lurking Shark brings to the screen. In addition, the gore/violence that the filmmakers did show are more than enough to get the point across that this beast is not messing around. I thought I’d be rooting for The Shark, but the film does a good job at making Blake likable and The Shark a vicious evil bastard, so that’s another plus.
(Since I know people will wonder, The Shallows isn’t much like Jaws other than the obvious fact that both films contain a man-eating shark. Jaws was one of, if not the first, epic blockbusters. It had a sizable budget for its time and was based on a novel. Furthermore, Jaws had Moby Dick allusions and depth in regards to its main characters. The Shallows is a minimalist thriller that focuses solely Blake Lively and her personal struggle for survival against this shark. That being said they both excel at making shark attacks terrifying, and The Shallows even pays homage to Jaws’ ending. But I’m reminded of a more hopeful, brighter, and less depressing version of The Grey. Ok, so not quite like The Grey at all but both films manage to evoke the primal fear of nature, and do it well.)
The Shallows clocks in at just under ninety minutes. It’s a well-executed thriller without unnecessary bells and whistles. The ending is unnecessarily saccharine but that’s a small quibble considering that most of the film is quite good. I won’t be going to the beach anytime soon.
TLDR: The Shallows is a tense taut thriller about a menacing hungry shark attempting to devour Blake Lively. 3.75/5 Stars.