★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
A beautiful minimalist survival horror movie.
Sometimes less is more, and the surfing shark thriller The Shallows is a fine example of what is essentially a three-act one set picture. The remote Mexican location and the crystal clear water is used to great effect by silhouetting the big predator in the waves and prowling the reef as seen from above. There’s trouble in paradise! Equally beautiful, and probably the biggest draw for the movie is Blake Lively, the central, and essentially the only consequential character in the story. Thankfully, rather than using Lively as a pin-up cheesecake exploitation, they emphasized her athleticism. More ESPN “Body Issue” rather than Sports Illustrated “Swimsuit Issue” in its attitude. This is important in that Lively plays Nancy, a med student and surfer who is traveling to a remote surfing beach, to get away and deal with the grief of losing her mother from cancer, and it is her athleticism and wits that keep her alive.
Nancy spend a day surfing the fabulous secluded cove with a couple of local surfers, and eventually finds her self alone to surf away her thoughts. Only, there happens to be a dead whale just past the reef. And that dead whale has attracted a hungry great white shark. Plausible! There are great whites all along the Pacific Coast, and it perfectly conceivable that a big dead chunk of meat floating in the ocean would attract carnivores like a week-old floating buffet. Nancy gets wounded by the shark and struggles to make it to the safety of the reef, and the shark apparently likes meat a little fresher than old funky whale flesh, and stalks the bleeding Nancy. The remainder of the film is a classic survival tale pitting the terrifying decisions of when to leave perceived safety for the next piece of high ground.
The shallows is intense. It touches that same primal fear of sharks in the water that Jaws capitalized on. However, it is a one-note movie, and the only character that Nancy has to really play off of is a wounded seagull. So we get a bit of the Survivor Wilson thing going on… amusing, but it’s more expositionary than evolving. Jaws was great not just because of the fear of the shark, but because of the relationships between Brodie, Hooper, and Quint. Didn’t get any of that here. So, kudos to The Shallows for giving us a quality lead protagonist, and a scary shark… but it hits its limits as a film at the end of the second act. The movie was apparently on The Black List for screenplays, that lists the top unproduced film scripts of any given year. So, this was a hot property, when it got snapped up. After watching this film, I have to think that the script was about thirty pages long, tops.
The Shallows is rated PG13 and is currently showing on Starz! and is available for purchase on Amazon. It has some good scares. It’s pretty. It’s also pretty simple. Worth watching, just don’t expect Jaws.