The Shallows (2016)

The Plot

Shot in New South Wales, Australia for $17 million, the story is about a young medical student Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) who goes to an obscure beach in Mexico to surf. Viewers soon learn that her mother has passed away. They also learn that the mother went to the same beach as a young woman when she discovered that she was pregnant with Nancy. It would seem that Nancy was visiting the beach to come to terms with the loss of her mother.

Adams gets a ride to the remote beach from Carlos (Oscar Jaenada). Though affable, he won’t tell Nancy the name of the secret spot upon dropping her off.

Nancy makes a video call to her younger sister and father before getting in the water. The father is upset with her because he feels she is running away from not only an important and expensive medical school education, but life.

Once Nancy is surfing she meets two men, the only other people out on the water. They spend the day surfing the raucous waves together.

Late in the afternoon, the men decide to leave. Nancy chooses to stay for one more wave. This proves to be her downfall, as within minutes she is involved in a vicious shark attack.

She spends the preponderance of the rest of the film marooned on an exposed rock formation 200-yards from shore. She  is cold, injured, and very frightened. Not to be deterred, however, Nancy repeatedly attempts to outwit the circling shark to get to the safety of shore.

The Cinematography

This is a stylish picture. Shot by Spanish director of photography Flavio Labiano, the ocean is treated as a character in the film. It is gorgeous, majestic,  and otherworldly in its pristine vastness and raw power.

The camera certainly notes that Blake Lively is wearing a skimpy bikini for 99% of the film, but it is never lascivious. It appreciates her beauty without lingering.

The Scares

I was confident going in that director Jaume Collet-Serra would deliver the scares as he has in previous projects such as Curve (2015), Orphan (2009), and House of Wax (2005).

However, I was a bit more intrigued by how Blake Lively would bear the weight of an emotionally charged role that required her to do nearly all the heavy lifting. Other than her work on The CW’s Gossip Girl as New York City socialite Serena van der Woodsen, which is light-years removed from this type of character, I admittedly haven’t closely followed Ms. Lively’s career.

Turns out that I had nothing to worry about. She adroitly reverts between wistful, terrified, and calculating…many times within the same scene.

The Shallows is built on a bed of tension. It begins early and never lets up. They key, though, are some great jump scares. (The woman seated in front of me at the screening flew out of her seat a couple times.)

Could the movie be improved? Of course. Does it ever drag? Not exactly. But there is a tangible thinness at points. It’s not enough to damage the overall film, but it is enough to keep it from being a top-level effort. I would guess that the thinness is a result of simple editing choices, but I can’t be certain.

The Legend of Bruce

The elephant in the room with this type of picture is the subject matter. Any film that centers around the scenario of a stalking shark will forever have to deal with the specter of JAWS. And guess what? It must be stipulated that no shark film will surpass that classic. Period. JAWS has 40 years of aura built up around it…and is too good of a film…to ever be outdone. It is the pinnacle of that particular genre. It is the veritable definition of iconic.

That being said, it doesn’t mean that shark films are off the table. For example, Rocky is the apex of boxing pictures, but there have been numerous excellent efforts since. Last year’s sequel Creed, for example, was an absolute stunner.

The Shallows is a helluva lot of fun. It is chalk full of scares and made for a fun Friday night. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Writer Anthony Jaswinski looked at JAWS and presented different scenarios with a different pacing. There are some really cool moments in this film. (Cinematically, the scene with the jellyfish is breathtaking.)

Sully “Steven” Seagull

This review would be utterly lacking if I did not mention the performance of Sully “Steven” Seagull, Lively’s sole acting partner for a bulk of the film. I don’t know how Labiano did it, but somehow he found a seagull that hit all its marks and yet had charm to spare. Sully is the “Wilson” of this picture. I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend him for the “Best New Seagull in a Motion Picture” for the 2017 edition of the Academy Awards. He is that good. Hell, Blake Lively even puts the little guy over on Twitter.

Other Film Reviews:

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

Green Room (2016)

Miles Ahead (2016)

-Zep the Bear

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