In the 41 years since Jaws took the movie industry by storm, countless filmmakers have tried to replicate its success to some degree. Most of the entries have ended up being so bad they’re bad, especially the countless amount of ones you can find these days on the SyFy channel. Shark movies have loads of potential to be entertaining but a lot of the time they’re squandered by being so stupid to the point that they’re cartoons in how threatening they are. Thankfully, some of what the old school entertainment shark movies can offer is featured in the newest survival thriller, The Shallows.
In a 127 Hours-esque set-up, Blake Lively plays Nancy Adams, a medical student that travels to surf at a secret beach her late mother use to spend time at. She joins two locals out on the waves and soaks up the paradise the beach has to offer. After taking a break to FaceTime her little sister and father, she returns to the ocean to catch one more wave. Once headed back to shore, her board is bumped by a great white shark that manages to lay a hefty bite into her left leg. Nancy manages to swim her way over to an isolated rock and is then left all alone when she witnesses the locals leaving the beach. Throughout the rest of the movie she has to use her wits and medical knowledge to get back to the beach without the shark ultimately killing her.
The Shallows is as simple as survival movies get, where it’s nothing more than woman vs. shark. Knowing that the movie is striving for nothing more than B-movie thrills, it makes sense why Blake Lively was the ideal choice to play the lead. Last year’s The Age of Adaline showed a glimmer of her potential as a competent leading actress, and she builds upon it in this movie. She portrays an effective juxtaposition of being just as strong-willed as she is vulnerable in the face of danger, although it is once downplayed when her character makes the dumb decision of trying to signal for help from a drunk local passed out on the beach. Her onscreen charisma, however, is overshadowed by the great white lurking in the ocean below, which although rendered completely in CGI form, is surprisingly realistic in its design. Toward the end there are some shots of it that make it look fairly phony and while it hurts the tone of the climax, it’s otherwise fittingly menacing in its appearance.
Outside of Blake Lively’s performance and the shark action, the rest of the movie is as hollow as one could expect. Screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski liberally borrows plot elements from 127 Hours multiple times and doesn’t make an attempt to do it in a subtle manner. In addition, the surfing sequences while well shot, are edited like an entirely different movie that’s similar to that of a dubstep music video. Lastly, director Jaume Collet-Sera uses slow motion at completely unnecessary moments, most notably in the beginning when Lively makes her way to the ocean to start catching waves.
I know that it sounds dumb to read deep into a movie of this kind but I’ll admit that I did get some decent entertainment out of The Shallows. Had the pacing been better along with a few tweaks in the writing, I would rate this higher than I am. Nonetheless it’s refreshing to see a shark movie that’s simple by design and doesn’t dive deep into the over-the-top, SyFy channel territory. Collet-Sera’s filmography is composed entirely of disposable thrillers (Orphan, Unknown, Run All Night), so if you’re looking for a fun, one-time watch in theaters, The Shallows will likely satisfy your craving.