*Warning, there will be mild spoilers near the end*
Ah Summer, with its arrival come longer sunny days, time spent vacationing with family and friends, maybe a road trip… and of course, sharks. Aptly released right before Discovery Channel’s famed Shark Week “The Shallows” is a taut and fun popcorn thriller that is very self aware of its own content and audience. The film opens with Blake Lively as Nancy seeking out an off-the-beaten-path beach in Mexico that her mother had visted years ago when she was pregnant with Nancy. Once found she thanks her native chauffeur and is off to surf the secluded waves. After meeting two locals that know the area for its reliably good waves Nancy surfs in the sun and enjoys herself. This is where the film feels more like a music video than thriller for a short but noticeable amount of time. As she goes out for one last ride for the day Nancy is finally encountered with the large predator lurking in her midst.
From the moment the shark is introduced until the resolution there is a palpable amount of tension throughout this one location, one character, film. We are told only what we need to know about Nancy before the encounter as she is ripped from her board and dragged into a cloud of red saltwater. She’s reliable, a former med student that didn’t finish her degree, and that she’s mourning the loss of her mother and has estranged feelings towards her father over that course of events. After Nancy breaks the surface and is aware of the danger she is in, she furiously paddles and thrashs towards the closest thing to get her out of the water, a floating whale carcass. This begins the shark’s behavior of relentless pursuit as it lies in wait and strikes at it’s most opportune times. From there Nancy ends up clamboring to a jutting rock that only lies above the water during low tide.
Now, whenever a shark movie comes out, the immediate reaction is to compare whatever it is with the king of all shark movies, “Jaws”. This movie is certainly no “Jaws”, but it is probably the best shark thriller to come out since Spielberg’s classic. The shark itself in “The Shallows” is a fine cinematic adaption of the real thing, it’s overly aggressive, threatening beyond doubt, and well, he’s no small fry. The shark is entirely CGI but it’s done so well that you can hardly tell that it’s not actually about to rip Blake Lively in half.
The movie does a wonderful job of setting the audience up to believe, or hope, that she will be saved by the handful of people she encounters during her traumatic event. Instead of giving up at every loss of faith in humanity when she is let down by them she figures out another solution to her problems. Ironically she is failed by men at every turn until she ultimately tricks the shark into its own demise, I won’t reveal how, because that would ruin the surprise. In the end it is a child that finds the washed up go-pro camera that Nancy had recorded her goodbyes into, while also capturing footage of the shark, that sends the child running off to retrieve help.
Ultimately if you are urging for a thriller in the surf and sand, “The Shallows” is fairly servicable to those efforts. The tension is kept high once it gets rolling, and its a fun way to spend an hour and a half. If you enjoy monster flicks, this one will probably satisfy.
Final Score: 4/5