Written by: Matt Molgaard
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Blake Lively
I won’t lie to you, I didn’t expect much from the summer’s “big shark movie” The Shallows. Just the same, the promotional machine behind the film made sure we all believed this was going to be the greatest shark experience since Jaws.
Jaws itself predates me by a few years, and that means more than enough time has passed to teach me that we’ll never see another Jaws. We may one day see another amazing aquatic horror film (there’ve been a few standouts over the years), but we’re not going to see a shark themed film that makes us think, this is better than Jaws! Because Jaws was about as close to a perfect picture as it gets. So despite some early rumblings from a few shills that The Shallows was destined to leave us every bit as terrified of the water as Jaws did, it wasn’t to be.
Respect, Mr. Spielberg, you were that incredibly rare rookie that showed up and broke records immediately. Somehow, 41 years later and no one’s come close to rivaling the terror you created.
No, The Shallows wasn’t a pic fit to test the endurance of Jaws’ greatness, in fact, it wasn’t even a special film, in the least bit. Hell, it wasn’t even the star summer blockbuster that Columbia Pictures no doubt had hoped for. Pardon the pun, but financially speaking, it’s been blown out of the water by a load of flicks to hit the big screen over the last six weeks.
Just the same, The Shallows has performed fairly well for what it is. Shot on a budget of $17 million (I’m still wondering how in the world a film like The Purge: Election Year, which features a whole slew of locations, a handful of established and “hot” performers, plenty of theatrics and a number of big special effects moments, can be shot for $7 million fewer dollars than a picture that essentially takes place in one small, single location with basically one single performer and a CGI shark… serious, what in the…) the film puts Blake Lively in the driver’s – scratch that – the only seat of the film, as Nancy, a surfer who finds herself stranded on a rock while a hungry shark circles. Stranded a few hundred yards from shore, there’s little to no chance of Nancy outsmarting the beast for a long enough stretch of time to get back to land. The simple question, obviously, is what does she do? How does she survive this ordeal?
The good, and surprising news about this one, is that Blake Lively turns in what might actually be her finest performance to date. If there’s competition, it comes from The Town and The Town, alone. It may sound a bit rough, but Lively’s never been much of a performer. Her work in Green Lantern was Razzie bad, from what I’ve seen of Gossip Girl (not a lot, I confess), it’s one-note, teenie bopper trash. I’m trying to avoid obscenities, so I won’t jump too far into how terribly outshined she was in Savages. I think she’s had some of the greatest luck one could ever dream of in Hollywood, and she’s now, to my knowledge turned in just two impressive displays. The Town gifted her some extremely special material to work with – but The Shallows leaves everything up to her, and if I’m being honest, the material isn’t exactly complex or thought provoking. Just the same, the entire film rests on her shoulders exclusively, and while being stranded on a rock in the ocean, alone save for a seagull with a terrible nick name, can make for minimal required dialogue, what Lively is burdened with handling, she handles astonishingly well.
It’s almost as if Lively just needed to be tossed (to the sharks? I know, it’s too much!) into the spotlight with not a soul to support her work in order to draw the best from her. It’s a bit perplexing, to tell you the truth, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t impressive. Lively does the absolute last thing I expected from her: she kills in The Shallows. Respect, Blake – serious respect.
Now back to reality.
There are some groan-inducing CGI moments that’re likely to make you remember how much you hate Hollywood’s current means of handling special effects and potentially epic sequences, and one moment that’ll have your eyes rolling so far into the back of your skull you yourself might feel a protective film slide over your eyeballs as you actually begin to resemble a shark in full-on feast mode. You’ll know it when you see it, but I’ll give you a hint: it’s when a massive, half-eaten carcass of a whale just randomly pops up in Nancy’s special little surf spot. And that, I admit is a really, really, really, really, re—(alright, alright!) bad moment for the film. Seriously, you’re surfing a small cove all day, and you never happen to notice a 40-foot carcass floating a few feet away from you? It’s not a good moment for The Shallows, to put it lightly.
Yet for all of these odd decisions and embarrassing script maneuvers, The Shallows doesn’t fail entirely. There’s a stretch of time in which we find ourselves interested in Nancy’s fight for survival, some of the aerial shots of the secret surf hole look absolutely gorgeous and Lively represents herself extremely well from a professional stance. Is it as fun as some of these other genre sites would have you believe? I’m inclined to say, hell to the no, not by a long shot. Just the same, it’s a lot more entertaining than I’d expected, so I can’t be too down on the film, although I will say this: director Jaume Collet-Serra didn’t exactly outdo himself here, and it is something of a shame to see his return to horror pale so terribly in comparison to his last feature length trek into terror, the amazingly uncomfortable killer kid flick, Orphan.
Oh well. Maybe another collaboration with Liam Neeson is in the cards.