In the mood for a stay-cation this summer? Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows should change your mind if not. This is an isolated thriller with a swift and vicious bite, as Blake Lively squares off against an oceanic threat not a single one of us would fare any better against. Sure, the thought of Lively’s California sufer-babe facing off against a shark does require a smirk, but Anthony Jaswinski’s script makes for a tense aquatic thriller under Collet-Serra’s watchful eye. It’s the kind of movie that ruins a perfectly sandy paradise, turning crystal-blue waters into blood-red depths – complete with jumps and screams aplenty.
Lively stars as Nancy, a distraught daughter/sister who is still grieving after cancer stole away her free-spirited mother. After “momentarily” ditching med school, she seeks out a secluded Mexican beach with intentions of surfing the same swells her mom once did. Sounds like a relaxing escape, no? It is – until a shark rips Nancy’s leg open, pulls her underwater and forces her onto a rock exposed by the low tide. With no foreseeable escape and a wounded appendage, Nancy enters survival mode the best she can. So much for reliving one of her mother’s happier moments…
First off, this is a beautiful film – deadly creature aside. Despite being shot mostly in tanks surrounded by bluescreens, Collet-Serra ensures that the tropical lusciousness of Nancy’s getaway is never lost. Foamy waves glisten in the sunlight, rainforest-covered mountain regions paint a picturesque landscape, and vibrant coral fixtures bring color to Lively’s shark-and-mouse game. Atmosphere sucks you in, priming you for an inevitable shark attack that’s delivered in the same digital vibrancy. There is no practical shark work, yet never once did I cry foul on animated creature effects. Visually, this is Hollywood magic that builds a terrifying scenario almost entirely from scratch, never once releasing its ferocious death-grip.
Of course, Lively deserves just as much recognition as Collet-Serra’s production team. For 85% of the film, she’s the only one on screen – yet we’re never bored by her constant presence. Lively’s Nancy owns any scenario – squeamishly stitching her wound together, cowering helplessly while a shark circles – each with the same intensified reaction. It’s woman vs. shark, but Lively proves to be a phenomenally emotional survivor who gets us to laugh, gasp, and grip our seats for dear life. We feel her pain, and pray for a triumphant swim to shore. Not many people can carry an entire movie themselves, but The Shallows highlights Lively’s acting abilities on a grand level that she hasn’t really been permitted before.
Nature enthusiasts shouldn’t expect the most realistic struggle between man and mother nature’s kin, which does distract at points – but not tremendously. There’s usage of a flare gun, stings from fire coral, and a buoy-bobbing fight against gravity that pushes Nancy closer and closer to becoming a shark snack. But – as ridiculous as it is – the film’s climax is a lightning bolt of insanity, and drives home this crazy/fun blend that perfectly describes The Shallows. It’s goofy, yet adrenaline-fueled. Seriously tense, and charmingly sympathetic (at parts). You’ll giggle one moment, then Marco Beltrami’s score cuts away to define how alone Nancy is, and the soft crashing of waves instills an unsafe discomfort that can’t be shaken. Without a doubt, there are better thrillers – but this one works just fine as is.
Blake Lively stuns, underwater cinematography dazzles, and a giant CGI shark finds far more fear than laughs – for those reasons alone, The Shallows deserves your time. Jaume Collet-Serra’s execution circles audiences like a shark circles its prey, only heightening danger when the moment truly calls for it. This isn’t some overly-actiony fight or a silent killer, but a postcard-worthy spine-tingler that boasts a tremendous leading role from its battered, beaten lead. Even with a lack of gore, there’s plenty to chew on for fans of horror, thrillers, and vacation nightmares alike – just don’t plan on going in any body of water immediately after.
The Shallows may look like it's all for show, but this tropical nightmare quickly flashes a wicked bite as well.