There are some premisses in film that better films overtime make redundant. Just as most science fiction films will be compared with Star Wars, and Zombie flicks will draw comparison to the Romero classics, The Shallows was likely to be passed off as another movie trying to re-capture what made Jaws such a classic. And while it certainly doesn’t come close to dethroning Jaws, an unexpectedly slower pace and plenty of effort from the people behind the film help make The Shallows stand out as an unexpected gem in this summer of sequels and reboots.
The plot is fairly standard. Blake Lively plays a young woman named Nancy who returns to a beach her mother visited years ago, and sets to surf the ocean waves, until a shark attack leaves her stranded on a rock far off from shore. While there, she must use her own medical knowledge, survival instincts and intuition to outsmart the shark and ultimately survive. Nothing about the plot screams original, and the film knows this, spending only as much time on the pre-shark scenes as is necessary to make us empathize with our protagonist. Although this would be a flaw for other films, the simplicity of the plot keeps the audiences attention on the current situation, immersing them in Nancy’s struggle to survive.
While not a breakout role, much of the film is dependent on Blake Lively’s performance, and she’s thankfully up to the task. Though Nancy is not explored in major depth, Lively uses a lot of subtle cues to add dimensions to what could have been a stock horror film heroine. The film spends much of its time beating Nancy down, which Lively wears as much in her performance as it does though her make-up. You like her character, and are simultaneously rooting for her and worried for her safety, which is more then you can say for most films in this genre.
As for our other co-star, the shark itself, the word of the day is realism. The bites it takes out of people are displayed in gory detail, while managing to hold back on anything too over the top. The effects for the shark hold up well throughout the films runtime, including its first reveal outside of water. More important is how grounded the shark is handled during the film, with the creatures reason for being/staying in that area explained in a believable way. Likewise, while the shark is often threatening, it is shown as less of an unstoppable killing machine and more of a dangerous, but still mortal, predator, keeping the battle between it and Nancy an unpredictable one.
Most interestingly enough, the films advertisements show a completely different film then whats presented on screen, which actually works in the films benefit. While trailers showed a high body count and non-stop thrills, The Shallows finds its best moments when it slows down and takes its situation in. As the gorgeous cinematography explores this beautiful, harsh environment, the audience is shown more of the minute to minute threats that arise for Nancy, such as rising/falling tides, hypothermia, and the worsening condition of her initial shark bite. At the same time, we explore more of Nancy’s thoughts on both her life and current predicament, allowing us to grow to like her as a character more, causing the tension and drama to feel that much more heightened, and stick with you long after the film reaches its ending credits.
Unfortunately, the things holding the film back from greatness tend to come right during the films third act. While the back and fourth between Nancy and the shark stays realistic throughout most of the film, her final confrontation with the shark tends to lean more heavily on film tropes then the rest of the film had before, standing out for the worse. While nothing ever feels stupid bout this confrontation, and some genuinely thrilling moments occur throughout, what should be a climactic ending is likely to divide audiences, in terms of its effectiveness. Likewise, a final scene afterwards felt wholly unneeded, serving only to add a hollywood ending to a film in order to appease the casual movie-goer.
While comparisons to Jaws are likely to come up, The Shallows tends to have more in common with 2011’s The Grey, opting to offer audiences a slower, more thoughtful experience, instead of minute to minute action. Were it not for all the details coming together, like Lively’s performance, the spectacular cinematography, and the work clearly done on he shark, it might not have worked. But while there are certainly problems in the third act, the work done throughout the film offers something audiences are likely to enjoy, while simultaneously giving them something they might not expect, making The Shallows stand out as more then your typical summer movie chum.
Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 8 Steven Seagull’s out of 10