The Shallows

US | 2016 | Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Logline: A surfer is injured by a great white shark and trapped, alone, a couple of hundred metres out from an empty stretch of beach. 

I dig b-movies, but I can’t go down the Sharknado path. If I indulge in trash, I want it to be deep (arty) trash. If it’s schlocky, then it needs to be slick. In fact, my favourite horror movie, Alien, is essentially a super-slick b-movie. The Shallows is a slick b-movie. It’s no Alien, that’s for sure, but it knows its limitations, and so it applies thick brush strokes to the areas where it counts. The cinematography is lush, the damsel in distress has sex appeal, the performances are solid, the special effects are excellent, and, most importantly, the monster is suitably menacing. 

Nancy (Blake Lively), a med student and skilled surfer, is holidaying in Mexico. She’s still dealing with the recent death of her mother, and now she’s traveled to the secluded, unnamed beach where her mother had once been, barefoot and pregnant. Her friend is too hungover and has remained back at the hotel. Nancy joins two locals on the waves, and enjoys the surf. The two surfer dudes depart, and Nancy is left alone. Except for the humpback whale carcass floating nearby. 

And the massive great white shark that knocks her off her board and then bites her leg. 

With the tide out Nancy swims to a small rocky reef, where she is able to apply first aid, and then plays cat and mouse with the shark. An injured seagull joins her. The shore is close, but not close enough. There’s a large ship buoy about 50 metres away. Nancy will need to get to that when the tide comes in. 

There’s enough silliness to sink The Shallows, but attacking its implausibilities would be doing this horror-thriller a disservice. Since when did true realism ever get in the way of a b-movie? Okay, so where are all the other sharks hanging around the dead whale? Since when did sharks that big ever take bites that small? Where was the head inside the helmet? Why did the swimming between the jellyfish suddenly become a light show in a swimming pool? Why hadn’t the surfer dudes spotted the dead whale before Nancy? The list goes on. 

Okay so the shark’s demise is just plain ridiculous. But hey, it’s been OTT leading up to that point, with the furious shark so hellbent on having Nancy for dessert it’s decided to chew through the buoy to get to her. I swam with it. 

I never had any time for Blake Lively before this, but she does a great job here, and the camera loves her. Especially the Sony Xperia smart phone which Nancy owns. So much so, that one would be forgiven for assuming Sony was one of the movie’s financiers. Which it is. For Lively it’s a mostly physical role, with little dialogue, and much lying sprawled uncomfortably on a rock. Funny, because her husband, Ryan Reynolds, had to endure a similar kind of cramped singular location in Buried a few years back. 

There’s a lot of high praise being splashed on The Shallows by audiences saying its the best shark movie since Jaws. I’m certainly not about to haul this behemoth onto the same kind of high rig, but I’ll definitely add it alongside The Reef and Open Water, in terms of palpable suspense and slick filmmaking, albeit a lot gorier. Whereas The Reef used real shark footage cleverly intercut with the actors, The Shallows uses top notch CGI, and I was genuinely surprised at how effective and realistically the shark was depicted. I also liked that Collet-Serra chose to use the shark's on-screen presence sparingly. 

I’ll finish up on Nancy’s bite wound, because it’s a bloody doozy. With only an M rating I wasn’t expecting any gore, but Nancy is forced to deal with a very nasty thigh wound, a long and deep gash. The special effects makeup is superb, and the blood is realistic. Yes, I'm a real stickler for this stuff, and well done to Collet-Serra for making sure it’s bang on.