While Jaws is rightly regarded as an all time classic, and the occasional gem has emerged such as Open Water, killer shark films have an otherwise dubious cinematic track record. From the increasingly ridiculous Jaws sequels through to more recent offerings such as Deep Blue Sea, Bait and the ludicrously woeful Sharknado franchise, quantity has outscored quality by a considerable stretch. The Shallows is one of the best additions to the genre in recent memory; a taut and entertaining thriller which is buoyed by a brave and compelling lead performance by Blake Lively (Savages). The shark is pretty good too.
The premise is simple. Lively plays Nancy Adams, a jaded medical student, struggling to come to terms with her mother’s premature death. An avid surfer, she seeks out a secluded beach in Mexico, which has a poignant link to her past. Her moment in paradise quickly descends into a nightmare when she is attacked by a great white while riding a wave. Badly injured and stranded at sea, Nancy must battle the elements and the blood thirsty shark in order to survive.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra has a decent resume having helmed underrated horror films House of Wax and Orphan, as well as the effective Liam Neeson action flick Non Stop. He applies his skills very well on The Shallows. The film is perfectly paced and succeeds through it’s combination of visceral action, pulse pounding tension and moments of nerve shredding terror. Lively’s performance is the key factor though. Despite spending most of the film rooted in the middle of the ocean with only her bikini and an injured seagull (Sully Seagull in an impressive debut) for company, she is a commanding screen presence. As the film progresses, Nancy’s predicament becomes increasingly perilous. Promises of rescue prove fruitless. She has to rely on her own brawn and initiative to overcome the odds. Her back story is neatly conveyed without too much on the way of exposition and adds a layer of complexity to her character’s survival quest. While the camera spends plenty of time lingering on her flesh, it is the gruelling physicality and emotional qualities which she brings to the character which truly impress.
While there are the occasional moments of schmaltz and schlock, this is for the most part an impressive genre pic which transcends it’s B-movie trappings. Beautifully shot. tightly scripted and at times genuinely terrifying, you definitely won’t want to go in to the water after watching The Shallows.