Review: ‘The Shallows’ Delivers on Its Genre Thrills With a Carefree Attitude

By June 23, 2016
Nancy (Blake Lively) in Columbia Pictures'  THE SHALLOWS.

Coming out just one year after the 40th anniversary of Jaws, not only the best film about a shark ever, but also one of the best movies ever, The Shallows has been released during a specific time when the shadow of its genre predecessors seems to loom larger than usual. Obviously, the comparisons between it and other films about sharks vs humans are inevitable when it’s a story as familiar as this one, but in a few daring ways, director Jaume Collet-Serra has managed to separate his latest effort from the film’s more notable predecessors that will likely divide or delight those who go to see it this coming weekend.

The film’s plot is fairly simple: it follows Nancy (Blake Lively), a med school dropout who’s taken it upon herself to find a mysterious beach in her mother’s past, in the wake of her death after a long and tiresome battle with cancer. Nancy’s backstory is given quickly within the movie’s first opening minutes, and it’s clear that Collet-Serra and co. were hoping to skip over the obligatory exposition in the most efficient way possible, allowing Nancy’s technology to provide a majority of it, and allowing her to sidestep some of the exposition-heavy dialogue you might have expected from a movie this self-contained.

The rest of it is easy to predict, Nancy goes surfing, gets attacked by a man-eating shark and survives, but in doing so winds up trapped on a small rock island in the middle of the shallows, right off the shore of her mother’s mysterious beach. Once there, she is left with only a specific amount of time before the high tide comes back in and washes her safe haven away – leaving her once again at the mercy of the ruthless shark circling her.

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Unlike Jaws or Open Water though, the two movies that The Shallows will be most compared to in both its marketing and from moviegoers, which prefer to keep their sharks in the shadows and are very sparing with how much of the creatures are shown onscreen, Collet-Serra opts instead to show you the shark in full view within the opening seconds of the film. It should be about then as well, when you decide whether you’re going to be on board with some of the film’s more special effects-heavy moments or not. As someone who came into the movie looking for a fun, and tense shark thriller, I was on board.

From there on out, Collet-Serra chooses to keep the camera as close to Blake Lively as humanly possible at points, not only forcing the audience to feel intimately close to her, but also forces Lively to not only pay attention to her every movement, but also makes the eventual deterioration of her body to the shark’s attacks and landscape feel that more brutal. With the heavy-burden of carrying practically the entire movie on her shoulders as well, sharing the screen for the most part with a seagull next to her, Lively gives what might be one of her best performances here, getting to incorporate a large physical presence into her work this time around.

For Collet-Serra as well, this is his best outing in years, after making three back-to-back-to-back Liam Neeson-led action movies in Run All Night, Non-Stop, and Unknown, returning him to the kind of genre style filmmaking that he demonstrated in 2009′s underrated horror flick, Orphan. Though he does bring some of his less-interesting impulses from his weaker films to The Shallows as well, in the sometimes over-reliance on stylized action, which manage to take away from some of the very real tension built up throughout a majority of the movie.

Nancy (Blake Lively) in Columbia Pictures' THE SHALLOWS.

The movie suffers from the usual, formulaic story issues that we often see in these films as well, and while a majority of the ways that Nancy prolongs her survival throughout the aren’t predictable, the plot beats that guide the overall story and structure are. The dialogue in the beginning and near the end especially can feel very clunky and out-of-place, with even Lively and her few co-stars tripping up over some of the stranger moments and lines.

If you want an accurate idea of what to expect from The Shallows though, I think I can sum it up fairly quickly with one moment from the early screening I caught of it. The scene in particular takes place near the end of the film, when Nancy’s time and survival chances are rather quickly running out. When she eventually puts together her solution, and then executes it, there seemed to be a division in the audience between those who wanted to laugh at its somewhat absurd nature, and those who wanted to cheer for the sheer fun of it all. I can luckily say that I was one of the ones who clapped.

I went into The Shallows expecting it to be a tense and entertaining genre thriller, and more than anything else, a palette cleanser in a summer season that feels stocked to the brim with familiar movies fueled purely by the nostalgia of those going to see them. Luckily, The Shallows gave me exactly what I was looking for, including another notable performance from Blake Lively, who continues to prove herself as maybe one of the most underestimated actresses working today. Fun, fresh, and entertaining from beginning to end, The Shallows manages to stand out from the rest of its genre predecessors with its carefree attitude, and should prove to be a delightful addition to this year’s sequel-heavy blockbuster season.

The Shallows is set to hit theatres on June 24th.

Alex Welch

Alex Welch

Alex dreams of meeting a girl with a yellow umbrella, and spends too much time* staring at a movie screen. His vocabulary consists mostly of movie quotes and 80s song lyrics. *Debatable