Director Jaume Collet-Serra has foregone his annual Liam Neeson collaboration (‘Non-Stop’, ‘Unknown’, ‘Run All Night’) and returned somewhat to his horror roots (‘House of Wax’, ‘Orphan’) to deliver unsuspecting audiences a neat cinematic jolt in the form of ‘The Shallows’ – a ‘Jaws’-lite open water thriller that is far superior in reality to what one would be expecting. A confident genre director, a well-planned script taking advantage of the film’s single-set scenario, and a more-than-able performer in the ludicrously charming Blake Lively result in ‘The Shallows’ rising above its limitations.
On a nameless beach somewhere off the coast of Mexico (which in actuality is the gorgeous shoreline of Queensland) Texan med student Nancy (Lively) is looking for nothing more than seclusion and a swell. As we quickly learn, this beach holds sentimental value to our photogenic protagonist due to it being the same one her (now deceased) mother would frequent during her pregnancy. The beach remaining a nameless location and Nancy’s history as a medical student is typically crucial once disaster strikes, but thanks to a smarter-than-deserved screenplay these elements feel organic to the plot rather than a tacked-on convenience. And as for this aforementioned disaster? Catching her final wave of the day, Nancy is violently knocked off her surfboard by a monstrous great white shark, slamming her body against the elevated reef floor in the process resulting in a nasty injury that makes the most of the film’s sound effects. Finding somewhat of a safe haven on a miniscule rock island in the middle of the ocean, Nancy clings on for dear life completely aware of the rise and fall of the tide to come will only add to her anxiety on how to survive the night.
What begins as one woman’s will to endure quickly escalates to a battle of wits between Nancy and the deadly predator circling her as his hunger only increases over the brisk 87 minute runtime. Whilst there a few less-than-polished CGI moments involving the shark – more so during its initial introduction – the genuine tension that’s mounted from watching Lively outwit this creature is palpable, and the direction the film takes her is unexpected to say the least. Speaking of Lively, ‘The Shallows’ is certainly her film through and through, and though it’s impossible to not watch anyone else as she is essentially the only person on-screen, you couldn’t imagine looking away from her even if she wasn’t flying solo; she possesses a true movie-star quality, and a B-grade creature feature like this certainly doesn’t deserve a presence like hers, but damn if it isn’t all the better for it.
Save for a few typical ”Hollywood” moments, ‘The Shallows’ is a deceptively titled feature that works beyond its simple limitations thanks to a script, director, and leading lady who are all far more talented than what this premise deserves. The kind of edge-of-your-seat popcorn fun that’s been sorely missed from the cinema as of late, here’s a film that embraces its genre mentality and, quite literally, swims away with it.
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Blake Lively
Classification: M (Sense of Peril, Bloody Injury Detail and Coarse Language)
Review by Peter Gray
My rating: 3.5/5