The Shallows Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Sony Pictures UK
Directed by Jaune Collet-Serra
Written by Anthony Jaswinski
2016, 86 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
UK Theatrical release on August 12th, 2016
Blake Lively as Nancy
Oscar Jaenada as Carlos
Sully Seaguall as Steven Seagull
Brett Cullen as Dad
Hoping to catch some killer waves on a hidden Mexican beach, surfer dudette Nancy comes a cropper when she finds herself sharing the water with a killer shark instead. Trapped on a low-tide rock with the deserted shore tantalisingly close and only a wounded seagull for company (plus shark), it’s a battle for survival for the poor medical school dropout – out of her depth, bleeding out and soon to be chum in the water.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra has so far made a name for himself in turning terrible-sounding genre movies into gold, from Liam Neeson movies to Orphan (only one of the best horror twists of all time) and even a horror remake starring Paris Hilton (the gloriously lurid House of Wax), and The Shallows is no different. Here, the director tackles a subset of shark movies which peaked six years ago with Open Water and The Reef. The Shallows is essentially Blake Lively in a bikini fighting a shark for 86 minutes, and could well have turned out to be nothing more than a shallow excuse (boom boom) to ogle the actress for its whole runtime.
Which, we cannot deny, is still a large element of the movie. Cleavage shots and tight bikini bottoms rule the day for the first twenty minutes or so, drawing many an eye roll, stifled guffaw and mild boner from the audience. Teenage boys will have a blast with The Shallows, which could very well have been my favourite movie of all time were I still fifteen years old (still, teenage me will always have Into the Blue). Nancy’s perfunctory backstory is kept mercifully brief, through a series of cleverly depicted facetime calls and texts to her family and hungover travel companion. It’s just enough to establish the movie’s themes and Nancy’s medical proficiency, which she’ll be putting into use very soon.
As effective as the semi-exploitative titillation elements are, the movie’s action is doubly so. The shark comes at Nancy fast and hard, ripping Nancy’s leg, her surfboard and the audience’s nerves to bits. Collet-Serra wisely holds back on the shark, at first showing only glimpses from inside the curl of a wave and – most effectively – above, giving it the appearance of a fat black submarine rather than a shark. Mean, relentless and impeccably punctual, it’s more Michael Myers than Bruce the Shark, but works perfectly well for the film and its slightly cuckoo internal logic.
As in his previous films, Collet-Serra employs an unexpected surrealism in his by-the-numbers narrative, his set-pieces offbeat and clever. One wouldn’t imagine there much to do on a quiet Mexican beach, but it goes weird fast, Nancy initially clinging for her life to the corpse of a dead whale. Even the obligatory nursing-of-wounds sequence is made lively by Nancy patching herself up using her wetsuit and jewellery as makeshift bandages and stitching. Add to that a touching friendship with seagull Steven (geddit, and the best non-CGI animal star of a movie since The VVtch’s Black Philip) and some funky jellyfish, and The Shallows emerges as the most downright unusual shark movie this side of Deep Blue Sea.
As it happens, it’s about as scientifically accurate as Deep Blue Sea too. Anyone with half an inkling as to the behaviour of sharks will have a lot to overlook here, it being about as realistic a depiction as something out of Shark Tale. Some reasoning is offered as to the shark’s overly belligerent, malicious behaviour, but it never once rings true. The Shallows shamelessly plays on ignorant shark-phobia, with no sympathy as to the creature’s plight. The thing is even more of a dick than Bruce in Jaws, being so meticulous in his monstrosity that Nancy even manages to time his circling, like a video game boss.
Admittedly, turning its shark into a slasher villain works well for the story being told, resulting in a rousing finale and scenes of brutally wrought tension. Those early sniggers and rolled eyeballs soon turn into gasps of shock and concern, Nancy emerging as likeable, spunky and smart horror heroine as any slasher film’s Final Girl. Fair play to Lively, who does a lot with relatively little – even if she is upstaged by both of her non-human co-stars (three, if you count the dead whale). The shark-as-a-metaphor bit is just a little too on the nose, though.
The best shark movie in years, The Shallows is a snappy, crowd-pleasing blast of a movie. Smart, stylish and profoundly beautiful (and that’s just Blake Lively), it’s a thriller with surprising depth.