Contemporary Review / Review

The Shallows

by Haley GoetzShallows1This film has an angry, flame-covered great white shark jumping 15 feet out of the ocean. Yep, you heard me. Go see The Shallows if you want a load of that. Jaume Collet-Serra’s latest thriller features a solid lead performance from Blake Lively, effectively rendered visual effects, decent scares, and some pretty good cinematography. I went into the cinema with decently high expectations and left feeling not too shabby about spending eight bucks for a ticket.

The story is simple. Nancy (Lively) is a medical student still coming to grips with the recent passing of her mother. She decides to pay tribute to her by taking a pilgrimage down to Mexico, where she plans to surf at the beach her mother went to when she found out she was pregnant. When Nancy first gets to the beach, she finds two locals who are a bit shocked to see her there by herself. She catches waves with them and even stays out after they head back into shore (back towards her backpack where all of her valuables are…oh Nancy, you silly girl!). Anyways, something pokes her in the leg but it just turns out to be a dolphin. Instead of heading back to shore, Nancy decides to follow the family of dolphins farther out to sea where there is a rotting whale carcass. What feeds on whale carcasses, you may ask? Well, that’s where this movie gets its plot from!

Everything gets more and more outlandish from here on out (but in a good and entertaining way). A great white shark attacks Nancy after she gets entirely too close to the whale (we get that you’re in med school, but that doesn’t mean you can save a whale) and from this point on, it proceeds to stalk her and any other living thing that comes near her. Collet-Serra’s scare tactics, especially towards the beginning, are really enjoyable. The shark doesn’t actually come into play until about halfway through the first act, and when it does appear, all semblance of actual reality sort of falls away.

I’m no marine biology expert, but I would consider myself a shark enthusiast. That said, I can safely say that 85 percent of what happens in this film would never happen in real life to anyone. A shark, even an angry one, wouldn’t go so far as to throw a surfer off her board. Said shark would also not stalk a person for days on end. It just doesn’t make sense. Putting these things aside, however, it’s easy to just get sucked into the plot and realize that this is just another run-of-the-mill summer blockbuster that isn’t meant to be fact-checked or taken seriously. It strays from being overly melodramatic, and this is a good thing. The film isn’t supposed to be sappy, it’s supposed to be defined by a survivalist spirit.

Lively does a pretty convincing job in her mildly challenging role. Her character is a conflicted person who is trying to deal with her mother’s passing while also discovering what she wants to do for the rest of her life. When she becomes stranded on a rock outcropping about half a mile offshore, she must contend with the natural forces around her while facing her inner demons head-on. During this time, Nancy befriends a wounded seagull that becomes both her companion and reason to keep pushing forward when she’s on the rock. The seagull is a worthwhile attribute to the story and serves as the film’s comic relief.

Collet-Serra is a solid director. His other notable films include Orphan and Non-Stop, and The Shallows is rather similar to those movies. He knows how to create tension through the actions of his characters, and how to build suspense as the plot progresses. The one thing about The Shallows, however, is how formulaic it is. I often found myself being able to easily predict what was going to happen next. Collet-Serra does work around some of this, but it would’ve been nice to have more narrative twists along the way.

My favorite part of The Shallows would have to be its cinematography. Flavio Labiano provides us with establishing close-ups, engrossing shots taken from drones, and medium-wide shots of characters and important objects. Everything is shot in high resolution, and all of the first-person surfing footage appears to be done on GoPros. The blend of digital cameras and action-sports cameras distinctly characterizes the film’s sense of tension and movement.

If you’re looking for some (but not a lot) of scares, want to see a lot of Blake Lively’s face up-close, or find yourself intent on catching some CG shark action, then by all means go see The Shallows. It really is just another summer blockbuster, but it’s one that surprisingly delivers fairly well.

3 out of 5 stars

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