The Shallows and all the images you see in this review are owned by Columbia Pictures
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Everyone wants a crack at that Jaws money, or I guess that Shark Week money now that THAT has become a cultural touchstone… for some reason, and this is no exception. The big innovation this time though is to make it a bottle film which makes a certain amount of sense considering that any situation other than STRANDED AT SEA means it would be hard for a shark to get you. It’s either that or you’ll have to stick them in a tornado, and that shit got old REALLY quickly. Does this manage to be a taut and exciting thriller as Blake Lively tries to outsmart a shark, or is this just a low budget imitator of much better films? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows Nancy (Blake Lively) who’s gone to Mexico to find a beach that her mother visited long ago, and the reason she’s there in the first place is to work through some problems by surfing them away. Unfortunately, a whale had died close to the beach which has attracted a shark that then proceeds to attack Nancy while she’s catching waves alone. She survives the attack and manages to climb her way onto a nearby rock, but she’s got no phone, she’s got a huge bite mark in her leg, and the rock will sink back under the water once it’s High Tide. Can Nancy manage to find a way back to the shore without getting eaten? Will someone come by to rescue her before the sea rises? What is this shark’s problem!?
The movie is fine. I’m honestly having trouble coming up with any other way to describe it other than… fine. How’s the cinematography? It’s fine for the most part. How’s the acting? Well Blake Lively doesn’t always manage to sell the pain, but for the most part it’s fine. What about the shark attacks? Eh.. there’s a few too many of the CLOSE UP, SHAKY CAM, QUICK CUT bullshit, but for the most part it’s fine. DO YOU SEE MY DILEMMA HERE!? This movie inspires so little interest and passion that I have nothing to get excited about or to rail against. If the filmmakers just wanted to make theater filler, well mission accomplished I guess.
Alright, let’s at least try to analyze this on a deeper level. Okay, this movie SHOULD have been bad based on the dopey and budget intensive premise. Hell, if Found Footage hasn’t started to turn a corner with audiences into being the overused gimmick that it is, this could have been one of those. I honestly think that despite the REALLY low bar set here, they made a damn near flawless example of this kind of low budget PG-13 sort of horror fare. You can see where they’re bumping up against their limitations, but you can also see the polish they took on making sure the elements they DID have to work with were better than you’d expect. One thing that jumped out me immediately is how they handled phone calls and messages. Now what we’ve settles on as far as representing this technology through film making is to have a simple overly on the screen so you can see what’s on the phone without having to see the screen itself. This movie manages to do that with a lot of flair so that these effects don’t come off as purely functional and give the movie just a tiny bit more visual panache. It gets RIDICULOUS as points, especially when there’s a Skype conversation and the way the shot is set up makes the overlays look about eighty feet tall, but at least it gives us something to look at while we’re getting exposition dumps. They also manage to get A LOT of characterization done very efficiently with Blake Lively’s motivations and how it’s set up right away through a single conversation and two or three scenes of her messing with her phone. There is that conversation over Skype that I mentioned earlier which is the only time I thought they were being excessive with it (we really don’t learn anything there that we hadn’t already figured out), but it doesn’t take up a huge section of the movie.
They also don’t feel the need to bog this down with flashbacks which are completely absent from this movie and would have just ruined the pacing and take us out of the experience she’s going through. Of course, they DO feel the need to bog this down with twenty minutes of surf footage before getting the show on the road, but that’s part of the premise here and I’m sure SOMEONE will appreciate it, though I will say I was more impressed with the surf scene in Point Break. Say what you will about that movie (I certainly have) but it had money behind it! Lots of wasted money!
Also, there is a bit of tonal dissonance in this movie that’s kind of annoying but not a deal breaker here. For about two thirds of this movie (okay, technically only the middle third because the first is all about setting things up) they try REALLY hard to portray Blake Lively’s predicament as realistically as possible. She’s barely able to move because of the shark bite, she’s doing gruesome surgery on herself (though I’m still not sure what she was doing with the earrings), and it’s all taking place on this one rock with the shark not really posing an immediate threat as much as the exposure and blood loss are. Sure, we do get some scenes of the shark eating OTHER people (real dumb people too who can’t fathom the idea of a shark being in the water until its bitten them in half) but it’s really about this woman on this rock trying to survive and waiting for help. Then the rest of the movie happens. It gets completely redonkulous once she needs to be proactive and we start introducing jellyfish, flare guns, lots of spiky shit, and other stuff which makes EVERYTHING go out the window at that point! It wouldn’t be so bad if they had maybe a smoother transition or if they didn’t bank on this movie being the PG-13 Revenant what with Blake Lively screaming in pain and oozing with blood for thirty minutes before going into Jaws The Revenge territory. They spent so much time convincing us that her leg is completely unusable, yet she’s a freaking gymnast by the end of the movie and fighting off a giant god damn shark. Sure it’s FUN even if the shark looks rather fake (robbing some of the impact when he attacks or when he gets hit), but it doesn’t fit with what we saw before.
Speaking of the shark, it’s a pretty consistently awesome element throughout. This is one of those SUPER SHARKS that inexplicably knows how to scheme and for some reason is fixated on this one person. I don’t know why it would even bother trying to get her when it’s a got a perfectly good whale carcass to finish off, but I guess it loves a challenge or something. Still, it knows enough to sabotage Blake Lively’s plans at every turn, yet isn’t smart enough to avoid the VERY PAINFUL poisonous coral that they REALLY should be aware of since it’s growing right in their environment? The shark actually got the biggest laugh from me in the movie where it pulls a surfer down under the water, and then the next thing we see is the board, broken in half, shot up like twenty feet in the air. WHO THE FUCK THREW IT UP LIKE THAT!? THE SHARK!? WHY!? It does a good job of breaking up the BLAKE LIVELY SUFFERING ON A ROCK scenes whenever it shows up, and its big show stealing scenes at the end are decently executed.
If you’re looking to see someone fend off a shark while sitting on a rock, well I guess this movie will do it. It does just a bit more than you would expect from a movie like this, but it’s painfully clear how low of a bar it’s aiming for and is happy to be the big fish in a small tank so to speak. That doesn’t make it bad movie, but it certainly doesn’t make it a particularly good one either. Go see Jaws; go see The Revenant; hell, go see Orca which is about a killer whale! This is… fine I guess if you’re not looking for much, but then why would you even bother watching a movie if you know it’s gonna be okay at best? There’s a place for comfort entertainment that you can passively watch while doing other stuff, but for something that’s SUPPOSED to be about thrills, suspense, and excitement, being ho-hum means that it’s not really worth your time.
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