Film Review – The Shallows
In case you’re wondering, Wikipedia lists the number of “killer shark” movies that have been released into the wild since 1936 at a whopping 46. And yet, we all only really remember one: 1975’s Jaws. While it’s still technically a B-movie, Spielberg’s masterpiece – considered the Big Bang moment for blockbuster filmmaking – took a basic premise and delivered its chills effectively, something straight-to-stream CGI-fests about prehistoric ghost sharks that like to munch on unsuspecting skiers struggle to do (yes, that movie exists).
Just over 40 years later, The Shallows gets a lot of these same things right. Firstly, the set-up is dead simple: Blake Lively plays a surfer who finds herself trapped between a rock and a big old great white shark when she goes for a solo session off the coast of Mexico. It’s a literal rock we’re talking about, and while she can climb on it when the tide is low, high tide is just hours away…
The film’s main faults are mercifully contained within the first act. Before that distressing dark shape emerges from the deep, the camera does linger on its fair share of exploitative low-angle bikini shots and the surf photography, while impressive, is often obviously mismatched between locations and days. The excessive use of video and text chat graphics ramps up the cheese-factor and is bizarrely designed, destined to date the film almost immediately. What could have been a purely gritty tale of survival is marred by an insistence on giving her character a cringe-worthy clean-cut family life and clichéd secondary arc.
Thankfully, it’s easy to forget the wobbly introduction once Lively wetsuits up and gets into some serious hand-to-maw combat. Proceedings move swiftly and bloodily, fulfilling the promise of being as stressful to watch as the premise suggests. The perilous stretch of water is shot from every conceivable angle, giving her isolation genuine scope.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra finds an impressive rhythmic balance between two timeless horror movie tropes, the unseen menace and straight-up ruthless gore, succeeding in keeping the moment-to-moment journey to a fixed destination feeling unpredictable.
Had it been able to duck the clichés and get off the sand a little faster, this film could have easily taken the crown of cinema’s Second Greatest Threat To Oceanic Tourism, but as it stands The Shallows is a better than average panic-in-your-chair cinema experience and refreshingly more grounded than the over-cooked big-fish-out-of-water tales currently clogging up your Netflix menu.