The Shallows (2016)
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra • Written by Anthony Jaswinski
With Blake Lively and Óscar Jaenada
When it comes to the movies, sharks might argue they’ve been given a bad rap. Ever since John Williams saddled them with the ultimate soundtrack of danger (dur-dum), they’ve been tossed around in tornadoes, invaded SeaWorld and eaten helicopters. It seems that no matter how ridiculous things get, we’ll never get tired of being scared of sharks.
Looking like a model in an exotic holiday commercial, Blake Lively is Nancy, a medical student visiting a remote island enjoyed by her recently deceased mother. Not only that, Nancy is here to surf, only, there’s something in the water. Directed with panache by Juame Collet-Serra, The Shallows shares more DNA with Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours than it does Jaws.
There was a time when I’d gladly watch a shark feasting on the entire cast of Gossip Girl, so it’s testament to Blake Lively that I found myself perched on the edge of my seat, willing her to survive this battle of the apex predators. As much as the camera adores her, in only her second feature, Lively has an easy presence, demonstrating a notable onscreen maturity. It’s all the more impressive that she succeeds, given her main acting partners are a seagull and a dead whale.
Clocking in at a sensible 86-mins, Collet-Serra opts to establish and sustain tension early in the first act. As Nancy tests the water, we’re treated to sumptuous visuals of her out in the surf, duck diving and paddling. It’d be quite serene, were it not for the knot in your stomach, brought about by the gnawing threat of giant shark appearing at any given moment.
Once things take an inevitable nose dive, the film locks in as an effective survival thriller, as Nancy struggles not just against the hunger pangs of a great white shark, but also the hazards of the surrounding environment. Much the same as 127 Hours, Collet-Serra does a fine job of applying that sense of so-close-but-so-far, as Nancy finds herself taunted by the tantilising hope of freedom, stranded so close to the safety of dry land.
Towards the end, it can’t resist the temptation to become a theme-park ride of a movie, with a side order of daftness, however, the special effects retain a good sense of heft and for the most part, it’s fun to go along with. While it does little to undo the lobotomisation of shark-based movies, The Shallows is comfortably the best one since 1975.