A mere 200 yards from shore, surfer Nancy is attacked by a great white shark, with her short journey to safety becoming the ultimate contest of wills.
Nothing compares to “Jaws.” There, I said it. But you know what, it’s really unfair that just because you have a shark in your movie, it will undoubtedly draw parallels to Spielberg’s 1975 classic. “The Shallows” does indeed have a shark in it but it also has the beautiful Blake Lively, some absolutely incredible surfing cinematography, and luscious, breath-taking terrain. Because of these attributes, the film successfully manages to stand on its own two feet, even though there are the obligatory correlations to “Jaws.”
Nancy (Blake Lively) is a med-school dropout who is on a quest. When her mother was pregnant with her, she found a beach that she described as paradise, far from the madding crowds where very few outsiders know of its location, somewhere along the Mexican coastline. While carrying Nancy, she took a photo of herself there and spoke to her about it many times. Using that same picture, Nancy is determined to find the exact same location, especially since her mother just passed away from cancer. With the help of a local man, Carlos (Óscar Jaenada), he generously transports her to the awe-inspiring oceanfront, never once giving up its name. Once there, it is very easy to see why her mother referred to it as paradise: crystal clear waters, beautiful soft sand, and not a soul for miles.
Nancy wastes no time stripping down to her bikini and waxing her surf board and then jumping straight into the alluring and welcoming water. Having spent some time familiarizing herself with her surroundings, she meets two local surfers on the ocean. Pleasantries are exchanged and Nancy decides to paddle out a little further to something that has caught her eye. When she nears it, she realizes that it is a dead Orca whale but is then quickly knocked off her surf board and dragged underneath. She manages to escape the searing pain that has enveloped her from beneath the waves and succeeds in climbing up onto the Orca corpse. While there, she realizes she was attacked by a shark and with him constantly ramming into the carcass, she jumps back into the water and swims safely to some rocks that are just above sea level, until high tide.
From here, it literally boils down to survival of the fittest, human against shark. Nancy is only about 200 hundred feet from shore but it might as well be 200 miles. After sewing her leg back up, she must quickly devise a plan before the tide rises and obliterates any and all hope of her making it back to shore safely.
The film is fraught with tautness and tension, thanks to Jaume Collet-Serra’s skilled direction who like Spielberg before him, succeeds in amping up the necessary apprehension and uneasiness by showing very little of the shark. All we need to see is its fin or shadow under the water to know it’s nearby and only towards the end do we truly comprehend its sheer size, as Nancy battles it with adroitness and cleverness.
Jaume Collet-Serra cleverly puts an injured seagull on the rocks with Nancy as she tries to stay alive, akin to Wilson the volleyball in “Castaway,” allowing her the opportunity to talk out loud and advise the bird of her plans, essentially empowering the audience with the ability to understand her next move. The film is supposed to take place in Mexico but in actual fact, was shot on location in New South Wales in Australia and some of the underwater photography, especially during the surfing scenes, is mesmerizing and will take your breath away. Blake Lively gives a very nuanced performance, thankfully never resorting to exaggerated mimicry or overly dramatic facial expressions, she hits all the right notes and does so perfectly. Jaume Collet-Serra has proven very adept at directing suspenseful, nail-biting thrillers, such as the vastly underrated “House of Wax,” “Orphan,” “Unknown,” “Non-Stop,” and the highly entertaining, “Run All Night.” With “The Shallows,” he can add another title to that list and here’s hoping he keeps this winning streak flowing.
In theaters Friday, June 24th
Check out Irish Film Critic for more exciting news, reviews, and giveaways.