Shark movies have never really done much for me. Sure, “Jaws” is a great movie, but there isn’t much that I find particularly frightening about the prospects of sharks, at least not in the realistic world. In reality, sharks just aren’t as vicious and predatory as Hollywood would love to convince audiences that they are. Enter “The Shallows,” the brand new shark thriller from director Jaume Collet-Serra and starring Blake Lively. Of course, the film is once again showing the shark as a dangerous predator of humans, going after Lively’s attractive young swimmer character. If anything, “The Shallows” exercises more and more horror clichés in studio-backed horror.
And in that, I’m shocked to say how much fun I had with “The Shallows.”
First things first, in a film that revels in being a B-movie, Lively surprisingly is a breath of fresh air in the film. Coming off her fantastic turn in “The Age of Adaline,” Lively’s decision to make her debut in a horror film is a peculiar one that actually pays off. Despite all its silliness, Lively’s character of Nancy, a surfer trapped on an island after a shark attack leaves her injured. After treading into his hunting ground, possibly threatening his food source, Nancy is stalked by said shark on said island for most, if not all of the film. Lively plays things pretty straight and her simple take on this strong character is a nice step for the actress.
A nice thing about the film is that it never once lets Nancy be stupid. The film around it might play itself silly, but Nancy is a character that isn’t afraid to fight and make sure that she stays alive by any means possible. She takes daring risks that the audience feels for and understands as she is often faced without a choice to do so. To see a character in a horror film, especially a female character, as strong and intelligent as Nancy is a nice step.
As for the rest, the plot is pretty simple and sometimes quite dumb, as the writers of the film obviously have no idea how sharks actually work, but once you start running with the fact that this film takes hardly any of itself seriously, aside from Lively’s performance, makes it a fun ride. Even a few of the jump scares got me, which I am not proud to admit. Beyond that, the film isn’t a particularly scary one, but one that is engaging and involving for the audience. If a horror/thriller can’t be scary, the least it can be is fun, which “The Shallows” does pretty well.
I always keep finding a similar problem in creature features like this one: the creatures are overused. Aside from 2014’s “Godzilla,” I always keep finding myself wishing that a film would use its creatures in a subtle way, not always showing everything it’s doing. Had “The Shallows” even just edited out some useless scenes of a shark fin rapidly approaching Nancy, leaving the audience to wonder if the shark is even around during the current struggle onscreen, it would’ve benefitted. The film feels the need to consistently have the shark in view at all times, while I personally would’ve found it more nerve-wracking if I were left to wonder where the shark is.
Beyond the film’s pretty shoddy CGI, director Jaume Collet-Serra (“Orphan,” “Non-Stop,” “Run All Night”) finds a good aesthetic for the film and runs with it. The film starts out with a bright, colorful color palette, using copious amounts of slow-motion and plenty of Top 40 hits playing over the background to show how carefree Nancy’s lifestyle is. Once things start hitting the fan, there is a slow drain of color from the entire film as Nancy’s is more and more drained from her injury. The almost monochromatic finale is a nicely tuned aesthetic to a film when there isn’t any CGI.
“The Shallows” starts strong, struggles in the middle and ends strong. It isn’t and doesn’t try to be anything other than a B-movie, which works for itself in a strangely endearing way. I couldn’t help but be invested and root for Nancy, despite how silly, inaccurate and movie-ized her situation is. The most winning quality about “The Shallows” is that it’s fun, which is something that a horror film should strive to other than just scary. Lively does a great job commanding the entire film and holds most of it on her shoulders; there isn’t much in the realm of powerful cinema to hold on her shoulders, but the fact that she did it is a compliment on its own, right?
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Blake Lively
Runtime: 87 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for bloody images, intense sequences of peril and brief strong language.
Columbia Pictures presents, a Weimaraner Republic Pictures/Ombra Films production, a film by Jaume Collet-Serra, “The Shallows”