I’ve never cared for water for as far back as I can remember. Well ok, maybe water itself isn’t bad but the open ocean has never been a favourite thing of mine. I mean I can swim well enough and I haven’t had any traumatic experiences out there, but when near an ocean I’ve always had an overwhelming feeling that I should keep myself on the shore. Every now and then, a movie like The Shallows comes along to remind me that the ocean is indeed a huge asshole and there is no reason to set foot inside of it. Ever.
On a trip to Mexico, Nancy (Blake Lively) makes her way to a secluded beach that was visited by her mother, who has recently passed, right before giving birth to her. She meets some fellow surfers and all seems well. Then she meets a shark and shit goes real bad real fast.
I actually haven’t been that exposed to Lively throughout her career. All I’m ever seen her in is The Town and Green Lantern. I remember her being good in the former and nobody escaped the latter unharmed, so I won’t judge her by anything she did in that one. The Shallows is 100% the Blake Lively show as she rarely shares screen time with anyone that isn’t a shark or an injured seagull. She handles herself well here, with a surprisingly unglamourous performance that must have been absolute hell to shoot. Nancy spends a great deal of the movie injured and soaking wet on a rock so I can’t imagine this was a particularly fun movie to make. Lively delivers though, using the limited time in the opening to create a likable character that becomes easy to root for when things go south.
This movie occasionally reminded me a lot of the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider in that Nancy gets the absolute shit kicked out of her at every turn. It’s not just the shark either. Seemingly everything below the water’s surface is waiting to bite her or sting her or cause her harm. The ocean is a real jerk and is ready to prove this at every turn. It’s definitely not a movie for the squeamish, with one self-surgery sequence in particular giving me the jibblies.
The movie is gorgeous to look at, with lots of overhead shots of this amazing location. The water looks so incredible that even I would be tempted to forgo my thoughts on the ocean and dive right in there. They get a lot of mileage out of underwater shots, showing a hand or a foot dip below the surface and lingering as we wait and see if Captain Shark is lurking around. There are also a lot of nice visual touches, like the face of a watch appearing to periodically remind us that the tide will soon take away the safety of the rock she is stranded on.
The Shallows feels like the kind of movie that already has a “MOST BORING MOVIE EVER!!!!” thread on IMDB. You cannot go into this one expecting a non-stop barrage of shark related thrills. It’s much more about Nancy’s journey to survive and the lengths she is willing to go in order to do so. The shark is always a threat, though it remains off screen for large portions of the film. It surfaces just enough to make sure Nancy never forgets that “Yo I’m still sharkin’ around out here! Bitey bitey bite!” The shark’s entrance in the movie is a particular highlight, as well as the final act that has a few good “Oh shit!” moments. I’ve also seen a few people online complain that it isn’t fun. Not sure why they expected it to be, but if you want a more fun/silly shark movie, might I recommend nearly every single other shark movie that has ever existed?
SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH! NOT HUGE ONES BUT YOU PROBABLY SHOULDN’T READ IT IF YOU DON’T WANT ANY PLOT STUFF SPOILED! TURN BACK NOW! …I really like that things didn’t go the way I expected with “Steven Seagull”, the aforementioned injured bird who spends much of the movie as Nancy’s companion on her rock. I kept waiting for the seemingly inevitable sacrifice of the bird in order for her to make it off the rock, and it really seemed that was the way they were going, but nope! Maybe that would have made the character unlikable I’m not sure, but I was happy to see events unfold nearly the exact opposite way I was expecting.
The Shallows doesn’t mess around, burning through it’s short run time with nary a wasted moment (outside of some early music video style montages of pretty people surfing) and creating a tight thriller that really stands out in a summer where even horror sequels are running over two hours long. Blake Lively proves consistently engaging to watch and some occasionally dodgy effects can’t ruin some effective shark set pieces. Though you can still go to hell ocean!