THE SHALLOWS (2016) is a new shark vs. man— or in this case, vs. woman— tale that was done best in JAWS (1975). No other film has even come close to duplicating the terror and suspense of that big fish tale.
THE SHALLOWS doesn’t either, and its story is really rather shallow (heh heh), but this doesn’t stop it from being a highly diverting and entertaining piece of summer movie entertainment.
THE SHALLOWS opens with Nancy (Blake Lively) a young American medical student vacationing in Mexico. She’s on her way to a special beach in her life- it was her mother’s favorite beach, and her mother is on her mind because she recently passed away from cancer.
Nancy is supposed to be surfing with one of her friends, but her friend remained back at the hotel, dealing with a hangover. Nancy meets two other surfers in the water, and they turn out to be nice enough guys. As they leave, they tell Nancy not to stay out too much later, as it’s getting dark. Nancy decides she wants to do one more surf before heading in.
On this last surf, she comes across a badly injured whale, and as she investigates, she is attacked by a very hungry shark. It seems that Nancy has inadvertantly stumbled upon the shark’s feeding ground. She desperately makes her way to a small rock which barely keeps her above water and out of reach of the shark.
She’s stranded, there’s no one else around, and while she’s only 200 yards from shore, there’s no way she can make it there with the shark continuing to circle in the waters. Worse yet, she’s bleeding badly from the deep shark bites on her leg, but lucky for her, she’s a medical student, and so she uses her ingenuity and some earrings to stitch up her wound in a gripping scene that is definitely not for the squeamish.
She’s also not completely alone, as on the rock with her, is an injured seagull whose wing was dislocated during the shark attack.
As the tide is rising and will soon take away her only mode of protection from the shark- the rock, which will soon be below water- Nancy has to use all her wits and resolve to not only survive her shark wounds and avoid the shark, but also to find a way to safety.
THE SHALLOWS is a nifty little thriller, well directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the man who also directed a slew of Liam Neeson movies, including UNKNOWN (2011), NON-STOP (2014) and RUN ALL NIGHT (2015), all of these decent action thrillers. He also directed the horror movie ORPHAN (2009), which I liked a lot.
I enjoyed his work here in THE SHALLOWS as well. The photography is dazzling, and the sandy beach and clear turquoise water has never looked more inviting. There are some fine scenes of suspense, although the film never gets flat out scary. Do not expect JAWS.
The most intense parts of this movie are the scenes where Nancy has to fight for her survival, like when she has to stitch the bleeding open wound on her leg. This is a wince-inducing scene, very powerful.
The shark scenes run hot and cold, and the scenes where we don’t see the shark work best, and that’s because when seen the shark can appear cartoonish looking and fake.
There is a really neat underwater sequence where Nancy has to swim through a horde of jellyfish to elude the shark. Sure, it’s all CGI, but I didn’t mind it here, as it’s all very colorful and cool looking. The sequence near the end where Nancy tries to make it to the safe confines of a buoy is also rather suspenseful.
The screenplay by Anthony Jaswinski is pretty much a mixed bag. It takes a while to get going, and then once it picks up, it never goes beyond the simple story of Nancy vs. the shark. And it’s all rather quick, as it clocks in at a swift 87 minutes. It plays more like a short story than a novel. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this, and for the most part, this film worked for me and I liked it, but as I said at the outset, it’s all rather shallow. I would have liked this one-on-one battle and survival tale to have become even more intense to the point where the audience would have to turn away. THE SHALLOWS never reaches this kind of intensity.
THE SHALLOWS is also pretty much a one actor movie, as Blake Lively spends most of the movie alone, just spending time with the seagull and fending off the shark. There are other characters, but for the most part, they don’t survive very long. As such, Lively is up for the task and pretty much carries this movie with ease. She does a really nice job here.
I’ve seen Lively in a bunch of other movies, and my favorite performance of Lively’s was probably her work in Oliver Stone’s SAVAGES (2012). She’s nearly as good here in THE SHALLOWS. In fact, she’s so good that other than the colorful photography and brief moments of intensity, Lively’s performance is my favorite part of the movie.
And I did like THE SHALLOWS a lot, much more than I expected to. I had zero expectations going in, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. For what it is, a nifty little thriller, it all works.
Is THE SHALLOWS the most intense and exciting movie to come out this summer? Probably not, but it is a very entertaing and picturesque way to spend 90 minutes at the movies.
Pass the sun tan lotion, please.