The Shallows is perfect contemporary B-movie fare for the season that brings monstrous blockbusters amidst the miserable heat, in addition to being probably one of the best shark movies of the last ten years. That may seem like faint praise, as it’s not hard to best films like Shark Night 3D, Sharknado, and whatever else populates the late-night SyFy, creature-feature lineup, but it’s praise that the film, its practically sole cast-member Blake Lively, and its director Jaume Collet-Serra deserve.
The film’s premise is as basic as you could ever get. We follow Nancy Adams (Blake Lively), a medical student who gets driven out to a secluded, secretive beach in Mexico by a guide named Carlos (Óscar Jaenada), in order to grieve and cope with the death of her mother. She chooses surfing as the cathartic method to wash away her sadness, and she finds two other wayward young men to surf with for an entire afternoon until the tide comes in.
In an attempt to catch one last wave, Nancy is thrown from her board and attacked by a shark, which tears an enormous, bloody gash in her leg before trapping her and a wounded seagull on a rock in the middle of the water. It’s a good sixty yards to the beach and with a quadricep that’s gushing blood, Nancy is nothing but shark bait, as she lies on the rock exhausting every possibility to get back to safety.
The first thing to admire about The Shallows is its unrestricted, natural locational beauty, thanks to cinematographer Flavio Labiano. Shot on the coast of Wales, the film has all the atmosphere and ambience of a coastal location that you could ever want, including the sounds of squawking seagulls and the murmurs of the water. It’s a beautiful, sun-soaked film that almost reminds of early 2000’s teens films in its simple, direct depiction of an environment.
The second is Lively, who gives a performance predicated upon physicality. In nearly every scene, Lively’s character is trying to finagle her severely wounded and worsening body defensively or simply trying to pull herself to safety in the knick of time. Because her character is stripped of any emotional layers that aren’t recognized and discarded within the same scene, what Lively, as an actress, has left to rely on is her physical prowess and she exercises it to the fullest degree in The Shallows and winds up being immensely watchable.
Jaume Collet-Serra also directed Non-Stop, the Liam Neeson star-vehicle from a few years back that took place entirely on a congested aircraft and actually wounded up being a commendable action film that bested each of the three Taken installments. He also directed Orphan from 2009, the Omen-esque film about a bad seed of a young girl. If nothing else, Collet-Serra has proven himself as slick and exhilarating when it comes to working with suspense in the horror and action genre.
His suspenseful tricks in The Shallows, nor screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski’s, aren’t anything unique or amazingly new, but they work and function on the level of making the audience uneasy and unsettled, which is about all you can ask and demand from an early-summer thriller that combines beautiful locational cinematography with overarching, almost unceasing, suspense and intrigue.