There’s only so much one can do with a plot involving a shark. I mean, once you get away from the water there’s little that a shark can do. It’s not like it would sprout legs and start running after you on land — like the amphibian creature from the Korean movie The Host.
So as far as shark based thrillers go, The Shallows is the best film in the genre since Spielberg’s Jaws. That’s really not saying much because the only other attempts in the genre over the years have been the Sharknado and Piranha movies. But since we finally have something fairly enjoyable in the B movie category, let’s just go with it the flow.
Blake Lively stars as a bikini clad medical student Nancy, who after her mother’s death travels to a ‘secret beach’ somewhere in Mexico. It turns out to be the very same beach where her mother surfed with she was pregnant with Nancy, and it also has a small island which looks like a pregnant woman (how convenient). While surfing, a great white shark attacks Nancy and since there’s no one around to help on a secret beach she’s marooned a few hundred meters from land.
The film is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who has made the enjoyably trashy Liam Neeson action movies Unknown, Non Stop and Run All Night — you would be forgiven for not being able to distinguish which one is which. The Shallows, however is very distinguished by the fact that it has a protagonist in very tiny bits of clothing throughout the film. What Serra does well, however, is suspend your disbelief just enough to make this ridiculous scenario kind of believable. The size of the shark, and the fact that the shark often eats into metal while attacking the heroine is thrilling enough to keep you in your seats. Nancy also uses some interesting low fi methods to outwit the shark, and her medical background pays off when she knows exactly how to repair her body when the shark bites chunks out of her. It’s silly fun.
The other interesting aspect of the film is that it isn’t gory at all. When the shark picks out people they’re just suddenly silently pulled into the ocean — it feels a lot more real than close up shots of large jaws coming at your face. It’s an interesting and subtle stylistic choice in a genre that is so inherently corny.
The only problem with the film is that it takes a good half hour for Nancy to stop being angsty and go into the ocean to be attacked by the shark. The contrived melodrama of her tragedy is quite uninteresting, and if you’re paying to watch a woman kicking a shark’s ass, that better start happening soon. Lively is given unintentionally hilarious slow motion shots of surfing in the sexiest possible manner and it’s impossible to figure out if the sequences are self aware or just pandering to the horny genre crowd. So you should watch this film, but you can walk in twenty minutes late for an even better experience, unless of course you dig endless shots of a bikini lady surfing in slow mo.