What was once in the deep is now in the shadows
Sometimes when writing a review, I end up struggling when setting up the film’s plot. In the case of The Shallows, this really is not a problem. It’s Blake Lively v a shark.
Ok, so there is slightly more to it than that. Blake Lively is Nancy Adams, a young American travelling in Mexico, who has found the secret bay her mother had great memories of. Her mother’s death has caused Nancy to contemplate dropping out of medical school, and a fractious phone call with her father shows how she is still struggling with her future. A keen surfer, she goes out to catch one last wave after the locals have decided to head home. Unfortunately for Nancy, a dead whale ha brought a shark into the bay, and when the two cross paths, Nancy is left injured on a rock in the middle of the bay, stranded. Can Nancy survive her injuries? Can she possibly get back to the shore?
The Shallows has been inaccurately described as a horror film in some circles, possible due to director Jaume Collet-Serra having made the excellent Orphan. He has actually made more action films than horror films, his last three having been the Liam Neeson triple bill of Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night. The marketing of this film has also placed it in the realm of Open Water (a natural comparison) and Ryan Reynold’s Buried has been mentioned. However, those sort of comparisons are not quite accurate. Cosmetically The Shallows is a survival film, but it on those terms it pales into comparison to either the greats of that genre (Gravity, 127 Hours, and dare I throw Apocolypto in there?) or the more stripped-down, bare bones films (Robert Redford’s All Is Lost, the previously mentioned Open Water).
It also doesn’t quite trust itself as a singular character piece. Blake Lively is engaging when on screen, and there is one sequence that takes place off-screen where the audience watches her reaction instead of the gory action. The very next shot however totally undercuts the subtle of Lively’s performance. An injured seagull goes from background Easter egg to a rather heavy handed analogy to almost a comic relief sidekick. Similarly, there are big stretches of the film with little to no dialogue, but then in other scenes Nancy will explicitly say her plan of action out loud, narrating for the audience when maybe the braver choice would be to have her remain silent.
BUT… my problems with the film come from the baggage I brought into it with me. Once I stopped thinking of all the films it isn’t, and started watching the film that it actually is, there is plenty to enjoy in The Shallows. There’s one memorable, wince-inducing scene (in a good way) that involves earrings and a necklace. Steven Seagull is more than just a prop, and is a fun little addition. And while the film uses a few horror movie shark tropes, it then plays with them in a nice nod to its own continuity. It’s also a beautifully shot film, both in terms of scenery and camerawork, with the end credits really showing both of those aspects off.
Like Nerve, this is a refreshing change from a summer of bloated blockbusters. Although it’s not the quite the slow-paced, arm rest-gripping, tension-filled thriller I wanted, The Shallows is still a good watch. After a very grounded first third, it’s not realistic in the slightest, but it has enough internal logic for you to go along with the story, and there is tension built up through the film, just not in the way the trailers may suggest. Give it a go, but think more low-key action film rather than high-tension survival thriller.
The Shallows is in UK cinemas now.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
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