MOVIE REVIEW: The Shallows

(Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment via


“The Shallows” gives Blake Lively the chance to not only prove she’s more than a Hollywood hot body, but also one-up her husband Ryan Reynolds in survival film department next to his little 2010 gem “Buried.”  Prominent click bait out there will have you believe that “The Shallows” is the best shark movie since “Jaws.”  That bold statement is a bit of overrated hyperbole.  “Open Water” and “Deep Blue Sea” might have something to say about that.  However, there more than enough impressive rush and originality from “The Shallows” to stand out in a crowded summer marketplace of retreads and sequels.

Medical student Nancy Adams (Lively) is on a spiritual solo sojourn retracing locations linked to memories from her late mother’s youth.  She died of cancer and the two were clearly very close.  Going off of a Polaroid of her mother pregnant with her on a nameless beach, Nancy is driven to find this special place.  A driver takes her to a nameless secret beach found in the crystal blue waters on the Pacific side of Mexico.  Sure enough, it’s the one and Nancy’s measure of spiritual triumph is to surf there and soak in the personal reflection time.

That serenity is interrupted when Nancy paddles too close to a floating whale carcass preyed upon by a voracious Great White shark.  Blood hits the water when she is attacked and bitten in the leg by the predator.  Removed from her broken board, Nancy finds refuge on a rocky outcropping 200 yards from shore with no one else around but a little seagull hiding out on the same rock with an injured wing.  Help from possible visiting surfers or a nearby buoy are scanty options with that circling monster in the water.  The shark isn’t going away and the tide is rising.  Battling blood loss and exhaustion, Nancy has mere hours before the water overtakes her position. 

Aside from a sappy coda that caps the film, go-to Liam Neeson director Jaume Collet-Serra slings a chiseled and suspenseful yarn that never loses your attention for its 87 minutes.  If it gets over-the-top, you have to remember you’re watching a summer movie that supposed to be a little harebrained.   Likewise, there is a chattiness different from something more serious like “All Is Lost,” but sophomore screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski keeps things moving and invents sterling little predicaments for our heroine to figure out.   The shock value action is just what you want in this kind of movie and the stings linger like a knife slowly continuing to twist inside a wound.

Blake Lively convincingly puts herself through the wringer in a physically-demanding performance.  In an improvement over the stereotype, she shows resolve as a Millennial-type who is going to push for survival rather than wimper or pout about “woe is me” Instagram hashtags.  Though the bar is low, this is a nice step up for her.

The razor sharp technical and visual sparkle is spread all over this cinematic cove.  The shot variety from cinematographer Flavio Labiano is some of the best action and atmosphere work so far this year.  His camera is nimble enough to grab close-ups of tension, slow-motion shots of anticipations, wide and high angles of natural beauty, and all the kinetic movements in between, giving the film a striking perspective of voyeurism.  Veteran composer Marco Beltrami wraps the visuals with a snuggly-made danger music score that does cheaply set up scares or drown your ears with wasteful noise.  Lastly, the gorgeous shooting location of Lord Howe Island off of New South Wales coast in Australia will have you clamoring to book travel arrangements for your next beach getaway.  Don’t worry.  The shark attack numbers are movie fiction.      

Fun and thrilling movies like “The Shallows” are what this hot weather season should be all about.  Collet-Serra doesn’t ask too much of the audience and we are rewarded with easily digestible zest and titillation.  These are the kinds of films to enjoy with a group of friends where you can relish the entertainment and unpredictability.  Lively sells it well.  Expect some bragging to go on over in the Reynolds household this month.

LESSON #1: DON’T GO NEAR THE LARGE CARCASS LEAKING BLOOD INTO OPEN WILD WATERS—Everyone and their brother knows that blood = sharks.  What are you going to do?  Field dress a 20-ton whale and give it a consoling kiss on the cheek?  Stay away and go the other direction.

LESSON #2: THE MOST USEFUL FAILED COLLEGE MAJOR IS PRE-MED—Not everyone can have the survival resourcefulness of MacGyver, but knowing how one’s body moves, reacts, and heals is not a bad second tier.  Nancy is full of smarts and surprises, armed with only a wetsuit jacket, a string bikini, a diving watch, and excessive jewelry. 

LESSON #3: FIGHTING VERSUS GIVING UP—Nancy still questions her mother choosing to end her cancer treatment rather than fight longer or harder.  Everyone has their limits.  In a positive quality, Nancy shows through the entire ordeal that she is a fighter who is not willing to give up and die.  Kudos to her.