The Shallows (M)
Rating: 3 / 5
Back in the 1970s a little film called Jaws pitted one of the ocean’s most enigmatic predators—the great white shark—against Richard Dreyfuss and almost single-handedly created one of the most enduring collective human phobias of all time.
The great white shark makes a return in The Shallows. Billed as a ‘taut thriller’, The Shallows stars Blake Lively as Nancy who, still reeling from her mother’s sudden death from cancer, decides to take an extended break from medical studies on the remote Mexican beach her mother loved.
Nancy is rewarded with glorious surf, but when she chances upon the feeding ground of a great white shark things quickly disintegrate as the shark decides Nancy is decidedly tastier than a long-dead whale.
Nancy sustains serious injuries to her leg, but manages to swim to rocks about 100 metres from shore. With high tide approaching Nancy realises that she’ll need all her survival instincts and medical smarts to get out of the water alive.
The spectre of Jaws looms large in The Shallows, with director Jaume Collet-Serra and writer Anthony Jaswinski obviously understanding the delicate balance between terror and suspense.
While filming the surfing scenes the camera lingers longingly underwater or way overhead accompanied by a blistering soundtrack—it’s exhilarating and adrenaline pumping just as it should be—and the next moment it surges upward or downwards, stalking Nancy as she’s beaten and tossed by a wave (meticulously timed and beautifully shot, these early scenes set up the latter tension perfectly).
This movie understands how to get the most out of Mother Nature and then artfully juxtapose this against the unknowing malevolence of what lurks beneath (it’s not only the shark that Nancy must avoid, there’s also poisonous coral among other nasties).
But this is essentially a two-hander film (Nancy versus The Shark).
Lively is a strong presence (although, especially during the early scenes, the camera seems more than a little distracted by her obvious beauty, lingering a little too long on her curves). Sitting on that rock with only an injured seagull for company, Lively’s Nancy is resolute, resourceful, funny, vulnerable and human.
Which brings me to the decidedly non-human co-star who has one thing on its mind—annihilation. There’s no doubt that this is one shark designed to live on in our nightmares, but as its hunt continues you do start wondering what exactly it has against Nancy (it can’t be hunger, as there are several other victims as well as the whale carcass).
At just under 90 minutes, the film doesn’t outstay its welcome. But somehow, The Shallows is not as satisfying as it could have been.
While it strives to be the Jaws for this generation by giving us a smart heroine, it can’t seem to get over the fact that the actress playing that heroine is so darned attractive. Of course, pretty women can be tough too, but still you have to be careful where you place the emphasis as well as point the camera.
Highlight: the cinematography
Red flag: bloody images, brief strong language