The Shallows isn’t quite what I expected it to be, and yet, it’s exactly what I expected it to be. I loved the trailers for this film so much, especially the one below. It was pretty clear how simple of a premise this movie had (boiled down: Blake Lively vs. Shark), but it also just looked too damn cool to pass up.
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And the film largely succeeds. The cinematography is beautiful, with some amazing underwater shots, and I’m not just talking about the underwater shots that are from the shark’s perspective. There’s this entire sequence of Nancy (Lively) swimming out into the ocean as she runs into larger waves she wasn’t expecting, making her dive under them with her surfboard. The slow motion sequence features great music on top of it that was scored by composer Marco Beltrami. Another scene has Nancy struggling underwater after the initial shark attack. As Nancy screams, the entire screen is slowly consumed by dark red and completely surrounds Nancy as she tries to break the surface. There aren’t a lot of gorey shots, but the few there are are subtly visceral. Wide aerial shots gets us into place geographically, with moments that take time to show the local wildlife (besides the big freaking shark).
Some people might pass this off as “just another dumb shark movie.” But while there are certainly aspects of the film that deserve an eye roll and a small chuckle (the ending is a little eh. I didn’t need the last two minutes of it at all, actually), it really isn’t. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, Non-Stop, Unknown, House of Wax) and writer Anthony Jaswinski dedicate a lot of time to the character of Nancy (which makes sense considering she’s stuck on a rock for 70 percent of the film, but here me out). Unlike other shark movies (Jaws excluded, of course), which usually just end up being summer blockbuster fan fare, The Shallows tries to go beyond the basic premise of Blake Lively vs. Shark to include an emotional through line that holds up, though it is pretty standard in that attempt.
There are some neat character moments while Nancy is on the rock. We learn earlier in the film that Nancy quit medical school in the wake of her mother losing her battle with cancer. So when Nancy has to take care of the giant gash in her leg from the shark attack, she does so by using her earrings and her necklace to roughly stitch it together, all the while whispering to herself what she would be saying to a patient back at the hospital. And Nancy isn’t alone on the rock. Steve Seagull is with her, also with his own wing injury, and together they work to make it out of their crappy situation. Steve Seagull’s story is actually pretty engaging, and I cheered for him just as much (maybe a little more) than I did for Nancy.
And Blake Lively has acting chops I didn’t know about. The Shallows is her best role to date, beating out any episode of “Gossip Girl” and those traveling pants movie by a long mile. I wasn’t really a Blake Lively fan before this, but if she continues with the momentum off The Shallows, I’ll keep my eye out.
The trailers made this film look super cool, but after seeing it, I’m going to bump it down just a bit to cool. It’s entertaining, beautiful, and kind of goofy. The Shallows is also proof that we need more decent shark movies. They are possible.
Related: Who’s up for Sharknado 4 on July 31st?! *rolls eyes*
Katey is a writer and film and television critic. She maintains Mad Max: Fury Road is the best movie of the past decade, and definitely deserved Best Picture at the Oscars. Follow her on Twitter, where her Twitter bio says she live tweets her progress of “The X-Files,” but that hasn’t actually happened in a really long time. Follow her anyway. It’ll be a laugh, probably.