Jaws meets Baywatch
Blake Lively is Nancy, a bereaved former medical school student who decides to visit a secret remote beach to take some time out on the waves following the passing of her mother. The beach is idyllic with its crystal clear blue waters and excellent surfing conditions, plus it’s miles away from any civilisation. It suddenly becomes not so idyllic when Nancy finds herself trapped on a rock as a hungry shark circles.
The Shallows is a pretty interesting take on a shark movie. We have a strong, female protagonist who actually seems to have her head screwed on. There’s some stunning visuals, and I’m not just talking about Blake Lively’s surf attire. The length of the film is only an hour and a half which allows for perfect pacing, a tingling tension buildup and segments of action that really caused me to hold my breath and ‘eek’ through gritted teeth.
Because there’s only one lead character (we’re introduced to a few others with minimal screen time) the movie relies on a pretty strong performance from Lively. And that is the case I’d say, for the most part. Ultimately, I was really rooting for her and I wasn’t sure how it was going to end.
The tingling tension buildup I mentioned is achieved through the familiar, incredibly fear inducing point-of-view shots from beneath the surface. That chilling moment the sound goes aqua muffled and we’re looking up at the underside of a surfboard with legs obliviously flailing either side is enough to make anyone immediately filled with dread. There were several moments when I was feeling tremendously anxious and just wanting to scream “GET OUT OF THE WATER!”
Yes, that is a line in the movie.
So what about the shark itself? For the first half of the movie – fantastic. It is an illusive and sinister presence, villainously lurking under the waves and only glimpsed for a second or two here and there. And those seconds are petrifying. However, the shark becomes significantly less petrifying when it turns into a CGI’d, blood hungry megalodon that chews through metal and does backflips in the air. It’s precisely this kind of on screen activity that gives sharks a bad name. There’s a full whale carcass there and this one shark has decided to focus on a skinny white woman instead? I’m not buying it.
I won’t go into detail, but the finale of the movie does contrast to the spine-chillingly intense buildup that we experience in the beginning. We are all aware that true horror and fear is created through mystery, suspense and suggestion, so when an illusive predator suddenly starts hogging the screen time, it doesn’t seem as threatening.
Steven the Seagull needs an Oscar after his emotionally charged, subtle and debut appearance.
Blake Lively carries her screen time very well as a young, independent character who just wants some time out away from the pressures of medical school to mourn the loss of her mother. And to surf. She portrays this in a believable manner, but I thought that some moments where she’s in extreme distress or shock were slightly less believable. Kind of like the reverse of Naomi Watts.
The Shallows is an exciting, suspenseful survival thriller with some unique filmmaking and a good performance from the lead actress, but the last third of the movie becomes a degree farcical with Sharknado-like action scenes. Still, I think I’ll be putting off those surf lessons.