Today I went to watch Blake Lively in The Shallows, a film that has managed to make more than five times its $17 million production budget at the box office, and is still viciously on the rise. Now, I don’t normally have good experiences with “shark films” because most of the films we encounter today focusing around the sealife predators tend to be disastrous B-movies that are just looking to make a quick buck with very little craft or effort put in, however I’m happy to say that The Shallows is NOT one of them movies.
I will be quick to stress that The Shallows is also not Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster Jaws either, the competition that every single shark film will undeniably face, but it is good watch and here’s why…
Director Jaume Collet-Serra makes great use of the scenery of Australia’s Lord Howe Island with stunning shots of the beach, surfing and long, brooding drone shots over the (not so) deep blue where the shark lurks beneath – the film has a style to it that doesn’t fight to be seen but can be subtly felt enough so you appreciate it. Matching the scenic beauty is the story’s leading lady Blake Lively, whose performance in this really shows off her acting chops. I will admit that I was caught off guard here slightly because I don’t think I have watched any of her previous work, but I know I will surely keep an eye out for her future projects after this. When you have a film that is set in basically one singular location for the entire film, you really need strong performances to keep the audience entertained and the Shallows can be thankful to Blake Lively for delivering that.
It was nice to see a protagonist these days (like Indiana Jones back in the original trilogy of films) actually suffering injuries and having to overcome difficult obstacles throughout a film as they come along instead of being able to just achieve anything they conveniently need to do so, and with this I felt that there was good creative ideas implemented into quite a lot of stand offs with the Great White too. Lively’s Nancy Adams shows brains, matched with courage, throughout and it’s a good job she does too because the slightest slip up can prove to be the end for her. Her injuries made me wince from time-to-time and these injuries, that can prove to be incapacitating at times, are what made me care about how her story ends against the predators circling her, and a befriended seagull with a broken wing, on the rocks.
When stand offs with the shark occur, after she’s developed one of many different plans, the tension builds and works very strongly throughout the second act. It builds well but doesn’t seem to rely on it’s soundtrack to do so, but silence instead. You gather the human vs nature aspect that the film explores and begin to feel a few more steps down from the top of the food chain us humans are used to.
Although I enjoyed this film it doesn’t come without it’s flaws of course…
We pick up bits and pieces as to what has sent Nancy to where she is through photographs, text messages and facetime calls to her phone throughout the first act of the film. I personally felt that this was a slightly lazy way to set up her back story and overall made me not feel for any of her connection to her family, I also felt no connection to her family as we had not seen her with them before the films events took place. If they were searching for extra running time, that would have been a good place to find it. I did care for Nancy, but it was because she was a fighter and also proved to be the underdog in the situation – not because of some paper thin backstory that had no real emotional weight behind it. Her father’s performance was also painful to watch and completely sucked me out of the film for the brief moments he was on facetime chat to Nancy.
You could feel that they were struggling to extend the running time of the already 86 minutes film during the first act as it seemed to drag harshly, however once we make it into act 2 everything picks up pace and it becomes more about her battle for survival against nature and less about her family, thank god.
Despite the fairly expositional first act, the only other problem that bugged me with The Shallows is how towards the final quarter of the film, the menacing shark loses it’s sense of realism drastically and ultimately becomes not that intimidating. It may have been the fact we saw to much of the beast? Maybe it was the CGI? I can’t quite put my finger on it but the tension and fear felt throughout the second act diminishes (to an extent) at the part with it should have been at it’s most intense.
Overall, I really found myself enjoying The Shallows. It has a great leading lady in Blake Lively and I became genuinely invested in how outcome throughout the film due to how much danger she is presented with. It holds a few pacing issues and lacks that main emotional drive behind the character back home, however the story is focused on Nancy and her survival in the situation at the beach so it doesn’t take away from the film too much. I’m rating The Shallows:
7 out of 10!
Go support the film by going to see it in the cinema and casting your own decisions on it. If you’ve already seen it, what did you think? Let me know.
Thomas E. Griffiths