The Shallows

In Films by Alex Moss Editor

If you go into The Shallows expecting anything less than bikini vs big fish stop reading now. Seriously, if you’re after high-art go and read some James Joyce or watch a Terence Davies film. Because this is a full-blown B-Movie, a monster movie straight out of the Roger Corman school of schlocks, scares and ridiculous concepts. But, given you’ve probably accepted this isn’t going to challenge you on a mental level, does The Shallows sink or swim as entertainment?

Nancy (Blake Lively) aka Shark Bait has dropped out of medical school after the death of her mother. Travelling the globe she heads to Mexico to visit a secluded beach where her mother surfed years before. With the surf being up, Nancy decides to catch one more wave and stumbles upon a whale carcass that happens to be the feeding ground of a huge, angry Great White shark. It’s not long before paradise is lost and Nancy is stranded upon a rock, with a seagull called Steven Seagull and the monster lurking beneath the waves waiting for her to make her move.

The opening of The Shallows is typical Hollywood by numbers, jaw-dropping locations, pretty girl in a bikini, exposition so forced it at times is literally written on the screen – in the form of text messages – and an attempted slow-build opening that, despite being brief, still feels long. Make no mistake, this is not Jaws. It was never going to be, it can never aspire to be, but, in the film’s defence, what shark film has ever come close to Spielberg’s classic?

Where the film really does work is in the initial shark attack which is a prolonged, gruelling, fear inducing, thrill ride that borders on being almost too much if you’re of a nervous disposition. It plays perfectly into that primeval instinct of what is lurking beneath the waves, again, and again, and again, and again. The issue that director Jaume Collet-Serra has by racking up so much tension in that first attack is it’s near impossible to sustain for the rest of the film.

So from there it becomes more the survival movie, accompanied by Lively, aka Mrs. Ryan Reynolds, going all MacGyver with everything from a GoPro to whale oil. It’s nice to think about the Lively-Reynolds household sharing notes on their survival experiences from both Buried and The Shallows. Suffice to say when the apocalypse happens you probably want to be near one of these two, or Bear Grylls.

Lively carries the film well. Having made a string of quite poor films it’s good to see her back in leading form and showing the potential that once had her marked as one of Hollywood’s hottest properties. Her fear and terror are infectious throughout despite the script’s clunky shortcomings. What does irk is Collet-Serra’s insistence on shooting Lively through a Victoria Secret’s lens. Yes, it’s pleasing on the eye but it comes across as salacious and the very definition of the Male Gaze. In 2016 you would hope that the Michael Bay way of portraying women on film would be a thing of the past. Steven Seagull on the other hand often threatens to steal the show. In the face of a CGI shark he’s a tangible and comedic edition. When they start handing out avian Oscars Steven “Sully” Seagull will be front and centre, he’s essentially the Daniel Day-Lewis of the winged world.

A fun, forgettable and often riveting thrill ride, The Shallows is bite-sized on the brain but filling on stupid entertainment.