Well it was a bitch to find but The Shallows was great.
The story of one woman’s fight for survival after encountering a threat from the deep was a fantastic piece of character work and a surprisingly engaging emotional tale.
Starring Blake Lively (best known for her work in Gossip Girl), The Shallows is yet another entry into the sharksploitation genre that, ultimately, gives a lot more than initially expected. Lively is phenomenal here – she spends a great deal of screen time alone, on a rock, in the sea. This could easily have become a dull scenario, but thanks to great writing (Anthony Jaswinski), direction (Jaume Collet-Serra) and acting on the part of Lively, its never boring.
Lively stars as Nancy, a medical student who heads to a secluded beach to surf in memory of her recently deceased mother. After being dropped off by a friendly local named Carlos (a small but genuine part from veteran actor Óscar Jaenada) it genuinely seems like she’s found paradise. However, after several hours of surfing, Nancy is attacked by a great white shark and must use her smarts to survive just 200 yards from shore.
Incredibly tense in parts (particularly when any character is in the water), The Shallows is a film of carefully crafted pace. It moves like the water itself – slowly brushing along the shore before building to menacing wave like crescendos. Aesthetically it’s stunning – the locations used are beautiful and really convey the feeling of paradise, somewhere that Nancy can really lose herself and run away from responsibility. But of course, death lurks just below the surface.
The shark itself remains mostly unseen, a saving grace as when it does make an appearance (at least the first couple of times) it has real impact. A particularly effective movement is when Nancy is trying to warn away a thief who is stealing her belongings – we never see the attack, only Nancy’s horrified, sickened reaction.
Would I call it a horror?
Perhaps not, but the real horror is what Nancy goes through. Stuck on the rock she must endure starvation, dehydration, stitching up her only leg (a grisly scene made even more effective in how she does it), losing feeling in her bitten limb and horrific sunburn. The struggle of which is made even more hard hitting by Lively’s tender, physical performance. Her fight for survival is more than just getting away from the shark – its dealing with her mother’s death, its finding reason to carry on and move on. Although this is handled a little clumsily in places, it makes for a fairly effective narrative.
A small comedic highlight comes in the form of a companion seagull Nancy names ‘Steven Seagull’, giving her something else to focus on and try to save. This leads to probably Nancy’s biggest struggle of all – throughout the film, she’s so determined to save others (perhaps why she originally chose a medical career) but has to learn she can’t save everyone (like her mother). It’s a terrible, horrible truth which is learned by many throughout our lives.
The best part about Nancy?
She’s smart. She makes strategic decisions, even when put under pressure. When faced with the shark, her wounds and situation, she chooses not to panic but to fight.
So, things have mostly been good. Now for the bad.
The CGI in this?
Sometimes it’s awful. Occasionally the shark looks fantastic, like really, good. The rest of the time? It’s shocking. The last twenty minutes features some of the worst CGI I’ve seen in a while (let’s just say it involves fire).
The other thing?
I love sharks. I know a fair amount about them. Shark behaviours are fascinating to me and they’re often portrayed in film and television as relentless monsters, determined to consume everything in their path (thanks Jaws…). This is especially the case when it comes to great whites. The shark in The Shallows is no different. Although portrayed as intelligent, it’s a single-minded eating machine.
Sharks don’t just kill for the fun of it (that’s pretty much reserved to humans and, believe it or not, whales) they kill to eat. They either bite to eat or bite to find out what something is. This shark kills and eats several people – even a full-grown great white would not have any interest in swimming round and round a rock in case of a snack after that.
I really enjoyed The Shallows. It was a fun start to the beginning of the Horror-thon and I look forward to seeing Blake Lively in more action orientated roles. Though maybe with less bad CGI. It was tense in places, though dragged a little, the heroine was likeable and strong, but the behaviour of the shark irritated me.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to know your thoughts on The Shallows. Comment below or let me know on Twitter!
Tomorrow I’ll be looking at Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out.