The Shallows (2016) / Thriller-Horror
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for bloody images, intense sequences of peril, and brief strong language
Running Time: 87 min.
Cast: Blake Lively, Brett Cullen, Oscar Jaenada, Sedona Legge
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenplay: Anthony Jaswinski
Review published June 27, 2016
Blake Lively (The Age of Adaline, Accepted) stars as Nancy, former medical school student from Galveston, TX, who travels to her recently deceased mother's favorite secret surfing spot in a lush spot on the Mexican coast to feel a connection with her as part of the grieving and healing process. When her friend bails on her at the last minute, she decides to go it alone, catching some hellacious waves and enjoying the brisk sunny air. However, she isn't really ever alone, as she soon encounters a massive great white shark when she inadvertently enters his feeding zone in shallow waters off the coast, and Nancy is the intended next course on its menu. With no easy way back to shore, it's a cat-and-mouse game of survival between woman and shark to see which one will ultimately prevail.
If I had to do the movie mash-up game, I'd describe The Shallows as 'Jaws meets Gravity', as we not only have a tenacious shark out and about killing everything in its path, but there's also a woman alone fighting for a way back to civilization in the aftermath of a traumatic life event. It's not as good as either of those films by a long shot, but it does hit an occasional good stride, enough to keep the film watchable, even when it takes turns that feel either too silly or over-the-top for what is mostly set up as a reality-grounded terror flick.
The Shallows is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who has mostly become known as director of a trio of b-grade Liam Neeson thrillers (Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night). As tight as Collet-Serra keeps the action, it's really cinematographer Flavio Martinez LaBiano (The Gunman, TimeCrimes) who makes this movie pop with visual splendor, both in and out of the water, and is especially effective when under it, which is often. Meanwhile, it's a nice performance by Lively in a physically demanding role, showing that she's much more than a hot bod. Some of the dialogue in which she talks to herself feels contrived for the benefit of the audience, but minimalist screenwriter Jaswinski (Vanishing on 7th Street, Kristy) keeps some semblance of an audience for her voicing her thoughts aloud in the form of a wounded seagull who is stranded in place along with Nancy, as well as a few choice interaction with either a random person en route, or a GoPro camera that might contain her last message to the world if she doesn't make it out in one piece.
While the build-up is effective, alas, the implausibility factor soon begins to creep in, and eventually overtakes the movie, especially when it begins too try too hard to dazzle us with a wholly absurd, high-octane action finale. The movie jumps the proverbial shark (or is it literal?) with the introduction of the world's most daft and belligerent drunk as a temporary would-be savior who becomes instant chum, and just gets more inane with each contrived development that might hold the key to Nancy's escape from her deadly predicament. Of course, by that point we've already met the low bar of entertainment we expect from a killer-shark-on-the-loose suspenser, such that even an overreaching final few minutes are allowable because we're just vested enough in Nancy as a character to root for her ability to fight and survive against all the odds stacked against her.
You could do worse than The Shallows in terms of an escapist mild horror excursion. it's a b-movie experience with A-caliber presentation, such that it will likely sate those with a penchant for Shark-Week regulars, as well as those who like the occasional no-brain, low-grade thriller.
©2016 Vince Leo