Director: Jaume Collet-Sera
Starring: Blake Lively
Just in case cinema hasn’t monsterized sharks enough since “Jaws”, here’s another go. Although “The Shallows” is yet another shark movie (and admittedly, made me fear going into the ocean even a couple of weeks after I’d seen it), it’s got a real bite to it, taking on the “human vs. shark” battle through a fresh lens. While “The Shallows”, is not on par with any canonical thrillers, it does exceed all expectations – and, it’s quite scary.
The film follows Nancy (Blake Lively), a beautiful blond in her early twenties who hasn’t quite recovered from her mother’s recent death. Deciding to throw caution and her enrollment in medical school to the wind, she goes on a solo trip to find a beach in Mexico that was a favorite spot of her mother’s. Shortly after arriving at the beach, Nancy stumbles upon the feeding grounds of a great white shark and finds herself stuck on a rock, 200 feet from the safety of the shore. From there, of course, it’s a fight for survival.
In order to succeed, a thriller film needs to have some kind of entity (ghost/satanic creature/monster) that the audience fears. In “Jaws”, Spielberg creates apprehension through the ‘fear of the unknown’ method – showing only the telltale fin for much of the movie. Collet-Sera takes a similar approach for the beginning, presenting nothing of the shark itself, only the havoc that it wreaks. However, once Nancy is stranded on the rock the director gives us a peak, often via a bird’s eye view of the scene that juxtaposes the size of the shark with the pitiful heroine. These shots are spectacular, and they enforce just how massive this great white shark is. It’s safe to say that Collet-Sera has lots of fun with his camera in “The Shallows”. Some of this fun makes for gorgeous cinematography, if you can get past the parts that look like a beach apparel ad for Hollister. Apart from that transgression, most of the shots are beautiful.
It’s worth noting that the well-cast Nancy is the perfect horror movie protagonist; she’s instantly likable, and her mother’s recent passing makes it easy to feel sympathy for her. On top of this, she’s also smart – you can just tell that she isn’t the type of dunce who would go into the dark basement alone. Until this seeing this film, I questioned Blake Lively’s abilities as an actress – to be frank, it doesn’t take much talent to look pretty and be a one-dimensional love interest (looking at you, “Green Lantern”). “The Shallows” is undoubtedly Lively’s best role to date, as she throws her entire body into it, making the gore, wounds, and her situation in general horrifyingly real for the audience.
Collet-Sera struggles with his exposition, and this is what keeps the movie from wriggling out of the B Horror Movie genre. The attempt to establish the scenario through Nancy’s chat with a local (Óscar Jaenada) who drives her to the beach falls flat because of the leading dialogue – of course, the local conveniently mentions the times for low and high tides and that an island appears 200 yards from the beach, among other things. The foreshadowing is painfully obvious to anyone who has done as little as read the IMDb synopsis. Collet-Sera tries to distract from this with cheesy moments – Nancy flipping through photos of her sister and friends, and her talking to the local in broken Spanish – but there’s no success. It’s plain that he’s trying to show Nancy’s personal situation to the audience, but the attempt is so forced and staged that it’s almost cringe-worthy.
Collet-Sera’s films have almost always been one or two steps away from being exceptional. Ever since “House of Wax” debuted his career to a painfully negative response from critics, the director has been slowly working his way towards a more positive reaction with every film. The good news for Collet-Sera is that “The Shallows” is his best project yet, and we can only hope that he will continue to improve.