Synopsis: A mere 200 yards from shore, surfer Nancy is attacked by a great white shark, with her short journey to safety becoming the ultimate contest of wills in The Shallows.
Release Date: June 24, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Horror
Summer’s here, and so is The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. So what better time for a good old-fashioned killer shark movie? Lucky for theatergoers everywhere, that’s exactly what The Shallows is.
The Shallows stars Blake Lively (The Age of Adaline) as a young medical student named Nancy who makes a pilgrimage to surf a secluded Mexican beach that was a favorite of her deceased mother. When Nancy arrives, the beach is everything she imagined it would be – peaceful and tranquil, but with a bitchin’ reef break. While surfing the spot, Nancy discovers that there is more than just coral and rocks under the water when she is attacked by a mega-huge shark.
She escapes with her life but winds up stranded on a small piece of the reef two hundred yards from the beach with a big bite wound on her leg. Nancy has to figure out a way to reach the shore from her rock before the tide comes in and takes away her refuge, but the shark is circling her, seemingly knowing that she is running out of time.
The Shallows was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, Orphan) from a screenplay by Anthony Jaswinski (Kristy), so it’s got a pretty solid modern horror pedigree, but it’s more than that. Sure, it resembles a SyFy Channel exploitation flick at times, but it’s also a pretty good throwback to the seventies Summer blockbuster. It’s a simple story of man vs. beast told in an engaging and compelling manner. And, best of all, it gives the viewer a feeling that they haven’t had since 1975; it makes them afraid to get into the water.
Truth be told, The Shallows takes a while to get rolling – the first twenty minutes or so looks like one of those surf movies that play on the TVs at Islands while the customers dine. There’s a bit of padding in the middle as well; Nancy contemplates the situation on her rock as she talks herself – out loud, so the audience knows exactly what she’s doing – through applying first-aid to her injured leg (the movie has an uncanny way of constantly reminding the viewer that she’s a medical student).
The Shallows is a short movie, but feels as if Collet-Serra and Jaswinski struggled to even make it as long as it is; the story could have been told in seventy minutes or so, but since it’s not the 1950s, it’s stretched out to a little under an hour and a half.
In some ways, the padded time is a gift, as it allows the viewer to spend more time with Nancy and get to know her character so that, when the time comes, they’re rooting hard for her. And root for her they do, right through all of the borderline-silly improbabilities of her adventure and straight up to the thrilling climax. Without spoiling anything, the ending is a bit of a lazily written cop-out, but it definitely could have been worse, and it’s hardly the most implausible part of the movie. And that’s all you’re going to get out of me regarding the ending because I want you to see The Shallows.
Comparisons of The Shallows to Jaws are going to be inevitable, so here goes; The Shallows is no Jaws. But, it’s still worth seeing. It combines the suspense of Open Water with the menacing CGI monsters of Deep Blue Sea, all wrapped up in a beautiful location with a lovely leading lady. What more do you want from a shark movie?
Blake Lively literally carries The Shallows. She is in every scene and is onscreen for just about every minute of the film, and she manages to make Nancy likable enough for the audience to never get tired of her. The writing is not exactly Shakespeare, but Lively is talented enough to save even the weakest sections of the script.
For example, at one point when it looks like all hope is lost, Nancy records a The Blair Witch Project-type of confessional into a GoPro camera in hopes that someone will find it and let her family know what happened to her. Lively injects real emotion into the speech, so instead of seeming like a corny display of melodramatic crocodile tears, there’s genuine feeling on display.
Nancy goes through the entire range of emotions during the movie, and Blake Lively keeps right up with her, all while kicking a giant shark in the face. It may not be the high point of her career, but Blake Lively should be proud of her performance in The Shallows.
And then there’s Lively’s co-star. For much of the movie, Nancy shares her rock with a seagull whom she affectionately calls Steven Seagull (according to Blake Lively’s Twitter account, the seagull’s real name is Sully). While it’s hard to say that the bird upstages Lively, he does hold his own while onscreen with her. Sully is the only serious competition that Charlie, The Witch‘s Black Phillip, has so far this year for that Best Animal Actor Oscar that really should exist (but doesn’t).
To many people, sharks are scarier than ghosts or psycho killers because they feel more real, like a shark attack could actually happen. The shark in The Shallows is a horrifying beast, a seemingly invincible eating machine that will stop at nothing to get what he wants. The Shallows uses the isolation of Nancy to great effect, constantly playing up the “she’s THIS close…” angle to pile on the suspense at a maddening level.
The movie also uses the slow reveal of the shark to build tension, and the constant unseen threat leads to a handful of great jump scares as well. There’s nothing too gory in the movie, but it’s almost better that way; most of the carnage is left up to the viewer’s imagination, which is scarier than anything that Jaume Collet-Serra can show them onscreen. The Shallows should be able to scare any reasonable person away from going surfing at a secluded beach any time soon.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Jaume Collet-Serra
- Producer(s): Lynn Harris, Matti Leshem
- Screenwriter(s): Anthony Jaswinski
- Cast: Blake Lively (Nancy), Óscar Jaenada (Carlos), Brett Cullen (Father), Sedona Legge (Chloe)
- Editor(s): Joel Negron
- Cinematographer: Flavio Martínez Labiano
- Costume Designer: Kym Barrett
- Casting Director(s): Ben Parkinson
- Music Score: Marco Beltrami
- Country Of Origin: USA