A while ago we had Jaws, but since then, shark movies have essentially become a by-word for crap. The shark is a lethal natural predator – the moment you turn it into a movie monster, it becomes a laughing stock. The Shallows is the latest in a long line of people vs shark films, and it manages to be quite good – driven by action alone, it is lean and boasts a good central performance by Blake Lively.
Still reeling from the death of her mother, a young medical student called Nancy Adams (Lively) travels to a secluded beach in Mexico for some much-needed solace. Despite the dangers of surfing alone, she decides to soak up the sun and hit the waves. Whilst she is surfing, a great white shark suddenly attacks, forcing her to swim to a nearby rock for safety. There, she is injured and left stranded – she is only 200 yards from shore, but she is trapped. Nancy must fight for her life as the deadly predator circles her in its feeding ground and awaits its kill.
For all that description, I can come up with a far leaner and far more fitting one – Blake Lively, in a bikini, battling a shark – and it strives to not be much more than that. It wastes time with a bit of backstory, because it has to, but keeps it mercifully short, only tacking on the details where it needs to. We only really learn that her mother had some connection to the spot (it adds nothing, but it gives us some degree of motivation) and that she is a medical student, something to help us when we want to scoff incredulously as she operates on herself, fashioning parts of her outfit into tourniquets and sutures.
Blake Lively does what is expected of her here – you need someone who you incline to like straight away (which you do, even if she is one of those Americans who is just a touch too annoyingly perfect) and who looks good (because as good as water-logged peril is, it becomes all the more appealing when the heroine has a nice physique). The movie goes out of its way to note that Nancy will survive her situation because of her brains and her ingenuity, and her easy charm reinforces this, but I suspect I know where the bulk of the movie’s revenue is coming from.
This is a far way off from the shark movie, Jaws, and it shows. There is a cold opening, featuring a video in which a character is attacked by the shark, and then we cut to 15 minutes of what may as well be advertising the place on a holiday channel. You’re willing the shark to turn up, just to nudge things along a bit.
And then it does.
The problem with shark movies is that if the shark is seemingly too intelligent, or seems to develop a beef against certain humans, they become silly. There is nothing wrong with silly, but silly isn’t scary (that’s why the Jaws sequels just don’t wrong). Director Jaume Collet-Serra is best when keeping the shark out of sight, a sight of a fin here and the silhouette of an underwater creature there. When the obviously CGI monster appears, although its battles with Nancy are somewhat thrilling, it loses some of the lustre.
If it sounds like I’m being harsh with The Shallows, that isn’t the case – if you embrace this film in the spirit with which it was made (that of a B-movie survival horror), you’ll certainly have a good time. It is definitely true that when Nancy is in the water with the shark, you’re having a lot more fun than when she’s sitting on a rock talking to a seagull. It is quite a simple thriller that doesn’t particularly concern itself with much in the way of substance, but that doesn’t really matter – it’s 86 minutes of a woman against a shark.
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Blake Lively (Nancy), Oscar Jaeneda (Carlos), Brett Cullen (Father), Sedona Legge (Chloe)
Running Time: 86 Mins