Published Jun 23, 2016Tense, aquatic survival thriller The Shallows doesn't really try to break new ground, or even really commit to being realistic, but that's okay; it makes the most of its gorgeous setting, paces itself well and, overall, makes for a good time.
Troubled surfer Nancy (Blake Lively) travels to Mexico with a friend to find a secluded beach her late mother loved. When the friend ditches her the day of the beach trip, Nancy decides to go it alone, the waves too tough to resist. When an encounter with a shark leaves her injured and stranded on a rock in the shallows, Nancy needs to use all her wits, strength, and experience as a med school dropout to save herself and get back to shore.
Throughout, there are several things the film does that pulls us away from Nancy's predicament, the most prominent of which is an onscreen display of Nancy's watch that tells us how many minutes she has until she loses her perch to high tide. It's mostly a pointless addition, as high tide only becomes an issue toward the film's end.
When Nancy looks at photos on her phone or FaceTimes her family, the screen appears on our screen. It's an interesting gimmick, but, as a Mexican native points out about her smartphone, a distraction from the beauty of the setting. Smartly, The Shallows decides to go easy on the screens as the film progresses towards its final, nail-biting conclusion, although not without including a hokey family scene that sadly subtracts from the film's powerful ending.
There's very little story or metaphorical significance to The Shallows, and, as in the hokey family scene, director Jaume Collet-Serra only half-commits; Nancy says some stuff about med school and fighting too hard, or not hard enough, or whatever — it's not that important, and thankfully, the film never pretends it is. The film isn't about finding oneself; it's a film about a crazy shark, a girl on a rock and the adorable seagull that hangs out with her there as she desperately tries to stay alive.
Its look and feel is the film's strongest assets. Set in Mexico, but filmed off the coast of New South Wales, Australia, there are countless stunning shots that capture the strength, terror and beauty of the ocean. Wide, panning shots, aerial shots that isolate Nancy and her fellow surfers as tiny specks in a vast, desolate ocean; all of these smartly illustrate just how alone and in trouble the injured Nancy is despite being a shouting distance away from the shore. It tends to overdo itself on slow-mo shots, as underwater films often do, but its visceral and beautiful, contrasting dark blood spreading out against the cool blue water, or the sunlight catching Nancy's inherited gold necklace.
A suspension of belief is necessary to enjoy The Shallows. There's probably no way a shark could eat as much as this one does and still feel the need to stalk yet another potential meal for at least 48 hours, and there's probably no way Nancy could have enough strength to swim, climb and prop herself up after a shark bite, dehydration and massive blood loss.
But ignore those cravings to nitpick, to roll your eyes. Just enjoy it. It's a dumb shark movie, and it's a damn fun one.