The Shallows (dir. Jaume Collet-Serra)

Posted: June 28, 2016 in Uncategorized

“The Shallows” is a pretty simple film. A woman is trapped so-close-but-yet-so-far out to sea (maybe 200 yards from the beach) as a shark seems hell-bent on eating her. Why? Something about a dead whale carcass and the woman infringing on its hunting ground. If that’s the case, I’m not sure why we never see the shark feeding from the whale, or why the shark prefer human meat to the whale. It seems the shark is after her, and any other human character it gets in contact with, out of spite…or something. In any event, we have a film that is part “Open Water” (people trapped in the middle of the water with no help coming) and part “Gravity” (one woman alone against the odds) with a shark. Given that nearly every shark movie since “Jaws” has been complete garbage, the fact that “The Shallows” is an entertaining movie without falling back on the easiness of self-parody (“Sharknado”) is a triumph of sorts all by itself. We end up with a decent little movie with some tense sequences and really beautiful underwater photography at points. This isn’t a very involved or smart movie, but it does a simple job effectively.

The woman at the center of the film is Nancy, played by Blake Lively. Lively is neither a good nor a bad actress, having had no real roles to distinguish herself in. In this film, Lively does nothing to distinguish herself as anything other than a neutrally talented actress who can do the simple tasks the film asks of her. She at least doesn’t project the boredom of the actors in “X-Men: Apocalypse”, but she also doesn’t bring anything extra to the character of Nancy to make us care about other than a general feeling that after 80 minutes if watching a perfectly nice person try to not get eaten, it’d be a shame if she were then actually eaten. If she was suited to this role in any particular way, it was because of how she looks in a bikini. The camera lingers on her body as she disrobes, puts on a wetsuit, and then disrobes from a wet suit in such a manner and so repeatedly that I found myself wondering if the director was trying to film one of those slo-mo montages from “Baywatch” that doubled as softcore erotica for syndicated TV audiences too cheap to by Playboy’s swimsuit VHS tapes. In fact, the entire first act of “The Shallows” is partially a beautifully shot examination of Blake Lively’s body and partially a surfing documentary ala “Endless Summer”. It looks nice, but is perhaps a bit too slow and a tad boring if you care not for surfing. The film tries to put in some backstory on Nancy about how her mother died after a long illness (and how that lead her to the secret Mexican beach the film takes place at), that she has a sister she likes and a father she has a cold relationship with. Oh, and Nancy has taken a break from medical school and may not go back, a detail added solely so that, later, Nancy can attend to some of her wounds and not immediately bleed to death from a shark bite as most of us without medical training would do under these circumstances. The backstory is not something we as an audience cares about, and that may be partly the writer’s fault and partly Lively’s fault for not really bringing much to this character except the basic likeability Lively herself has (which is a decent amount, admittedly).

Them the shark attack kicks in. Nancy is bit on the leg and takes purchase on a rock in the ocean that will be completely submerged at high tide, putting a time limit on her safety. The film demonstrates that the shark can jump out of the water, though, so I’m not sure why the shark doesn’t simply jump upon the rock and eat her (the rock is low enough for the shark to do this based on the skills the film shows us the shark has). Nancy is not on this rock alone, though. An injured seagull that cannot fly after being swiped by the shark is also there, and the seagull becomes the non-speaking supporting character that deserves third billing after Lively and the CGI shark. Nancy must then fight off exposure to the sun, her infected shark bite, and hunger and thirst (though the film doesn’t harp on those too much) as she tries to come up with a  plan to escape the shark, get back to land, and save herself.

It needs to be mentioned that the cinematography of this film, especially the underwater sequences, are beautiful. I don’t know what camera was used for the underwater shots, but they came out clear, crisp, and gorgeous to look at. A sequence involving jellyfish especially stands out. Some of the water during the surfing sequences is CGI, and the shark is likely ALL CGI, but I didn’t mind that as much because the weird, hypercrisp quality of the digital camera used to the film this thing blended well with the CGI elements incorporated into it. Cinematographer Flavio Labiano deserves special praise for the film (he also did the very good time travel film “Timecrimes”.)

The director is Jaume Collet-Serra, who has directed the “House of Wax” remake (a film very disposable and forgettable except as the film in which Paris Hilton is killed on screen) and the surprisingly good studio horror film “Orphan”. His last three films were all Liam Neeson action films. “The Shallows” fits more into the thriller category than horror, but it’s sort of a return to form, even if there’s very little in common between this film and “Wax” and “Orphan”.  Collet-Serra, aside from the creepy focusing on close-ups of Lively’s bikini body (which may be a comment on how human’s view female flesh as sexual contrasting with the shark’s view of flesh as food, but that seems too deep for this film) does a serviceable but unspectacular job with this film, as I view the film’s successes as those of editing and cinematography and not particularly directorial choices.

Look, if you want to see a woman fight off a shark for just shy of 90 minutes, enjoy the sight of Blake Lively in a bikini, and see some really beautiful underwater photography and shots of a beach, then this is a film you want to see.  If is no better or worse than that, and no more or less than that. I enjoyed it for what it was, maybe wished it was a bit more, but walked out more or less satisfied with the experience. The film does tack on a horribly useless epilogue that should have been cut, and that taints some of the experience walking out, but otherwise this film gives you the experience you’re walking into the theater to see, and not one iota more. B-

 

 

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