Just when you thought you were safe from shark movies being genuinely scary…
Forty years after since Steven Spielberg first chummed the waters, those feeding grounds are now mostly patrolled by bottom-feeders, like the made-to-be-so-bad-it’s-good Sharknado franchise. What Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows does is provide a good argument against that next beach holiday.
When Nancy Adams (Blake Lively), toned surfer and reevaluating medical student, arrives at a secret beach in Mexico, she’s expecting to catch a few waves, maybe do some soul-searching. Instead she ends up stranded on a reef while a huge great white adversarially circles.
A higher-budget fusion between Open Water and Buried — which starred Lively’s spouse, Ryan Reynolds — Nancy has less than twelve hours till high tide. That’s if blood loss and exposure don’t kill her first. What should be a pure-and-simple survival film, Anthony Jaswinski’s script burdens Nancy with dull and redundant family motivation, but the film is mostly sharp, effective, and entertaining.
The shark itself is a convincingly monstrous CGI beastie, lurking in the vibrant blue-green mid-distance and snacking on anyone not fortunate enough to be our protagonist. Collet-Serra’s camera often lingers just beneath the surface, marking the descent of a cautious, if bloodied, foot. Fashioning makeshift stitches out of jewellery — there’s a long moment that recalls 127 Hours — and providing aid to her injured companion Steven Seagull, Lively captures the pain, fear, exhaustion, determination, and resourcefulness remarkably.
The gore is infrequent and striking and the imagery occasionally remarkable (surrounded by luminous jellyfish, Flavio Labiano’s cinematography, effervescent with Nancy’s pain, looks almost sci-fi). Only the film’s tight focus prevents it from being anything more than an effective genre piece. There’s a buoy, a dead whale, plenty of shots of cruising underwater sea-life, and a climax that’s at least one part The Revenge, the Jaws series is well represented by this Sony latest.
Coming from a studio that has seemed to base its recent output around H.L. Mencken’s famous adage, The Shallows might not be crucial cinema-going fare — as with Money Monster, I’d suggest catching it on VOD — but there are enough undercurrents to provide some interest.