Film Review: The Shallows (2016)

Nancy is getting some alone time. A medical student spooked out of her studies after being unable to prevent her mother from succumbing to cancer, she needs to reset, away from the influence of friends and family. To do so, she has come to a special place. A nameless beach away from prying eyes where the swell is legendary and where her mother had surfed when she was a young woman. What she gets is not quite what she expected. But is this the change she needed?

Short answer: no. No-one needs to be marooned on a rock and circled by an unusually vengeful Great White, but if this is anything to go by, you can sure discover your inner MacGyver.

This takes us to the crux of The Shallows, which is, in so many words, Blake Lively versus a shark. The latest b-movie thrill-ride from Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown and Orphan), this is not quite as bad as it sounds. As much as it is unavoidable to see Blake Lively in some sort of swimsuit in this context, this is not the objective of the film. In fact it’s about as good a movie solely about a woman and a homicidal shark that you are likely to get – tense, atmospheric and with a stylistically fresh take on the old Jaws concept. The Shallows poster

Lively is very good, and so is the shark. It’s certainly a brave role to take on. It’s a lonely and physical role but also one that requires a lot of grit, heart and a bit of gentle deadpan humour to boot. Yes, she is left to her own devices for the majority.

It certainly helps that Nancy is an engaging personality. She has an easy temperament that flies between resignation and determination but rarely dips to despair, and while we’d forgive her for being a bit down on imminent death in her twenties, it would be a bit of a downer as far as the film is concerned.

In some ways it could be seen as quite an empowering movie – both in terms of her resourceful survival mode but also in comparison to most other roles Lively has played. Here she keeps all the men at arms length to the point where the closest we get to a male lead is a crippled seagull, who can only be described as miffed at being stuck on a rock with a human. Kudos to screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski for keeping it compact and keeping the plot on course.

Of course there is the nice, chuckle-worthy assortment of obstacles and checkpoints that inconveniently stand or swim in Lively’s way, but even if you can’t appreciate quality cheese, The Shallows looks amazing. The cinematography of the landscape truly gives weight to a peril of the unknown, a feeling that goes hand in hand with the sea, but not before Collet-Serra has convinced the audience of the ocean’s own hypnotic power of attraction.

If you are looking for a 90-minute bit of fun that is devoid of romance, has a few tense moments, is balanced with a bit of humour, as well as boasting a nice helping of cheese and some stunning cinematography, then I can think of many worse options. 

The Shallows is in cinemas from 18th August through Sony Pictures.

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