Happy Shark Week 2018! If you’re like me, you’re probably looking for a good shark thriller to celebrate the Shark Week festivities. Sadly, we’re still a few weeks away from the release of The Meg. It would be a no-brainer to recommend Jaws, a film I re-visit at the start of every summer. Instead I’m going to go back a couple of years and review the surprise box office hit, The Shallows. Starring Blake Lively, The Shallows overcame what looked like a one-note premise and kicked off a renewed interest in killer shark films that was followed last summer with 47 Meters Down.
After the death of her mother, medical student Nancy (Blake Lively) travels to an isolated beach in Mexico. Years ago her mother surfed the same stretch of remote beach while pregnant with Nancy. Reeling from her loss and uncertain about her studies, Nancy hopes to honour her mother’s memory by surfing the same waves. As the day grows late, Nancy decides to catch one final wave, but is attacked by a great white shark. Injured and stranded on a rock formation with the shark still hunting her, Nancy must find a way to get to shore before the tide returns and her refuge disappears.
The Shallows Makes The Most of its Simple Premise
Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and written by Anthony Jaswinski, The Shallows takes its basic premise of a contest of wills between shark and human, and wrings every last bit of tensions out of it. Not much time is wasted in this shark thriller. Collet-Serra quickly sets the table with all of the necessary introductory material before stranding Lively on that rock.
Over its roughly 90-minute running time, The Shallows proves to be a taut thriller with a few surprises.
Despite a limited setting, The Shallows never feels like its dragging or killing time. While Collet-Serra is no Steven Spielberg, he concocts several fun and imaginative scenarios for Lively to battle against her predator. From a moment of refuge on a dead floating whale to a dangerous swim through jelly fish, Lively’s ‘Nancy’ is put into enough suspenseful jams to keep most audiences riveted throughout The Shallows. Collet-Serra has some genre experience, having directed Orphan and The House of Wax remake, and it shows. Over its roughly 90-minute running time, The Shallows proves to be a taut thriller with a few surprises. One poor surfer’s run-in with the shark delivers the film’s best jump scare.
Good Shark Effects and Stunning Cinematography Elevate The Shallows
Any film about a killer shark inevitably faces the same challenge – rendering a believable predator on screen. To date, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws remains the gold standard for shark films. There may be a few scenes in Jaws where ‘Bruce’ looks a little rubbery but, by and large, Spielberg’s wizardry hasn’t lost any of its power to impress or terrify.
While The Shallows won’t make you forget Jaws, its visual effects are largely impressive and hold up pretty well to repeat viewings. Several shots of the great white shark betray some of the CGI-effects, but the quality of these effects is good enough so as to not detract from the fun of the film. We’re not talking about the Sharknado films or the recent dud, Deep Blue Sea 2. The great white shark in The Shallows convinces and, in a few scenes, looks downright impressively menacing.
The great white shark in The Shallows convinces and, in a few scenes, looks downright impressively menacing.
It doesn’t hurt that The Shallows is an absolutely beautiful film to look at. Cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano captures several stunning shots of the ocean background. All of the action scenes are lush and detailed, never jerking around or leaving you guessing about what just happened. The shot of the shark’s shadow emerging from a wave taps into our most primal fears about what lurks below us in the water. Even the surfing scenes early in The Shallows offer a visual appetizer to tide viewers over until the great white shows up.
Blake Lively (and a Seagull) Carry The Shallows On Her Shoulders
One of the common criticisms leveled at Jaws 2 was how acutely the sequel missed Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw whenever the film was stuck on land. Without interesting characters and convincing actors to portray them, shark films are left to tread water. In The Shallows, the entire film rests on the shoulders of Blake Lively. Aside from some sparse interactions with other characters and a seagull, aptly named Steven Seagull, Lively is alone on screen for the bulk of the movie.
Fortunately, Lively is more than up to the task delivering a knockout performance that ensures The Shallows never plods along when its great white isn’t chewing the scenery. Lively’s ‘Nancy’ is a likable and capable survivor brought to life by a confident performance. It’s a strong outing for Lively as she convincingly gives you the range of emotions you might expect her character to experience. Once The Shallows hits its grand finale, you’re fully invested in Nancy, which serves to enhance the suspense of what could have thudded as an otherwise ludicrous climax.
You’ve Got Options This Shark Week
If you’re getting a little tired of Jaws (which should never happen), or you’ve already watched it this summer, The Shallows is one of the better options for a Shark Week thriller. While it lacks the overall gravitas of Jaws, Lively’s performance and Collet-Serra’s tight handle on the suspense and action make The Shallows one of the better killer shark films.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A-