It’s woman vs. nature as Blake Lively takes on a Great White Shark in Jaume Collet-Serra’s survival thriller The Shallows.
On the surface -water pun definitely intended- the concept feels completely unoriginal with the potential to veer into very silly territory. How many shark movies have we seen since Jaws? How many of them have been any good? These are all valid thoughts going into something like this but I’m glad to say that the execution of this material rises above the mediocrity suggested by the plot summary.
Everything presented here is really simple from Blake Lively’s Nancy having suffered a recent personal tragedy causing her to re-evaluate her choices by seeking some alone time in a location that reminds her of her recently deceased mother. It’s basically a “discover your true self by dealing with adversity” sort of film and it makes no apologies for that fact.
What sets it apart is that it doesn’t beat the audience over the head with that. Nancy has nobody to talk to throughout much of the movie so her survival skills and problem solving capabilities become the defining trait of her character. Any point that is made about her own uncertainty is symbolised by her only companion being an injured seagull with a dislocated wing. It’s not broken and can be fixed – get it?
It’s a good metaphor and it’s just subtle enough to not get in the way here but it is present throughout most of the film which makes it feel slightly intrusive at points. Even if you don’t notice the metaphor then questions about why the seagull is still there might creep into your head.
Lively is great in this; effortlessly carrying the film almost entirely on her own. She’s believable on a physical level and delivers an intense emotional performance as the seeming inevitability of her fate starts to set in. Throughout the film she projects a “never say die” attitude that wavers just at the right points to remain believable. Her reactions feel very real as she does everything she can to remain hopeful despite the ticking clock. It’s a captivating performance that keeps the film moving and that’s what is important in these sorts of films.
The one criticism of her character I have is nothing to do with Lively. It’s more around just how capable the character is. Right away it’s established that she’s a professional level surfer who just so happens to be a medical student which gives her the qualifications she needs to deal with her injuries. If she had been less of an expert going in then some of the drama might have been heightened. This is a very small criticism as it has almost no negative impact.
I’m sure you’re all wondering how the shark is handled here and the answer to that probably depends on how invested in Nancy you are by the time it appears. I’m no marine biologist or expert on sharks but I’m guessing that they really don’t behave this way so there’s a certain suspension of disbelief to turn it into what basically amounts to a slasher villain as far as this story is concerned. Think Jason Vorhees but with more teeth.
Personally, I was completely on board with Nancy and her situation when the shark came into the story. The film establishes clear rules about how the situation works within its own world and sticks to them. In essence the shark raises the stakes just when they need to be raised and call on Nancy to overpower it with almost nothing at her disposal. The final confrontation could be seen as a little silly but I was willing to buy into it as I feel that the film had earned it by that point. It was compelling and tense so I couldn’t really ask for anything else.
It’s a short film at only 86 minutes so it doesn’t overstay its welcome and moves along at a decent clip but doesn’t rush through the quieter scenes. It’s important to let the audience feel the hopelessness and that definitely comes across. Does this film reinvent the wheel of horror films or thrillers? Of course not but it’s one of the more entertaining things you could see.
A really good film that fully commits to its simplistic premise and pretty much nails it in the execution. It’s well paced, Blake Lively carries the film wonderfully and it’s appropriately tense when it needs to be. A somewhat distracting metaphor and Nancy’s overall expertise drags things down slightly but barely enough to be noticeable. It’s a nice surprise in a fairly underwhelming summer of movies.
- Blake Lively’s ability to carry the film on her own
- the solid execution of the simple idea
- good pacing
- a distracting metaphor
- Nancy being a little too competent at everything