The Shallows could be easily dismissed as a guilty pleasure if it weren’t so competently constructed and self-serious.
Nancy (a believable and shockingly likable Blake Lively) is a med-student at a cross-roads in life wondering if she will or won’t become a doctor? She’s also still emotionally scarred by her mother’s cancer-related death. Therefore, she does some soul-searching in Mexico where she successfully finds a secret cove and beautiful beach where her mother spent some time shortly after learning she was pregnant with Nancy. There she takes to the surf and stays out in the shallow waters just a little bit too long…accidentally stumbling upon one insatiable shark’s feeding spot.
It’s not often you get such depth in a character leading a monster movie. So when things get silly and over-the-top (especially in the deliciously inane third act), the viewer is invested enough in Nancy to not give a damn about how patently ridiculous her tete-a-tete with one nasty shark gets. I imagine some animal rights activists will not be happy with the unfair portrayal of sharks…though seaguls (in the form of Nancy’s injured companion “Steve”) certainly get a nice image make-over here.
Meanwhile director Jaume Collet-Serra (of cult Orphan fame – another ridiculous “monster” movie with surprising character depth) shows cool savviness in his handling of the film’s tight runtime and One Woman vs. One Shark showdown. Soaring overhead shots showcase the pristine yet dangerous beauty of the cove, while he does a great job transmitting the joys of surfing, all intercut with menacing underwater shots reminding us of what lurks below. Visual cues and foreshadowing are judiciously used to effectively build suspense. Modern technology is also cleverly on display as face-timing casts characters’ talking heads out over the water, while text messages fill the sides of the camera frame in curiously unobtrusive ways. Not even a lame music score could sink this sturdy ship.
Is The Shallows just a slick modern B-movie? You bet. But it’s smartly made with just enough Lively-ness and depth. And it makes a nifty summer movie (especially during Shark Week). So go ahead…don’t feel guilty…take a bite and enjoy.
Written by David H. Schleicher