Review - 'The Shallows'
Choose your death experience: Fire, gunshot wound, or serrated by a thousand knives driven by the primordial need to feed? I’d honestly take fire and gunshot wound any day of the week than be eaten so there’s no surprise that I was clenching my butt within the first five minutes of the film as I experienced that death this time by the horrific way of a GoPro. That’s one of the many contemporary techniques director Jaume Collet-Serra uses to make what is probably the best shark attack movie since Jaws. By no means is it a better film than Jaws, but it does manage to reintroduce that same fear and respect of the ocean we’ve sadly forgotten the last thirty years while at the same time captivating the audience with surprising effects and performances.
Survival thriller newcomer Blake Lively plays recreational surfer Nancy Adams, a medical student who drops her education after her mother’s passes to pursue a fabled beach her mother spoke fondly of when she was Nancy age. Against her father’s wishes and to her sister’s excitement, Nancy finds the beach with the hope of serenity and closure but in doing so she interrupts the feeding of a large Great White shark and what ensues is a fight for her life. While there are other actors in the film, such as Oscar Jaenada who does what he can with what little he’s given, they take a backseat as Lively carries this entire movie on her shoulders, and for the first time, she really shines through as an actress. I never thought I’d say this but she and this film deserve to join the ranks of single character films like Tom Hanks in Cast Away and even her husband, Ryan Reynolds, in Buried. There were many moments and shots that were directed to focus primarily on her face and emotions, specifically one scene, and through that scene I believed what she was witnessing was the most gruesome thing she had ever seen in her life. And like Cast Away, she uses the audience as well as an injured seagull she meets after beaching on a rock after the initial attack, to bounce exposition and ideas off of which led to me honestly thinking she was going to call the seagull Wilson at one point. Of course, what would this film be without the metaphors of real life so as she begins to fight back against the shark, she is in turn fighting her own fears to return to med school. The film treads very familiar water, but it makes for a safe, solid outing at the movies even though you and I know we’re just going for the shark.
While I could say the shark is the second biggest star of the film, I almost want to say the special effects team, the cinematographer, and director felt like the true stars more than the shark. Each time the creature appeared, the reveal was different, whether it be from below like Jaws, GoPro like every Awolnation Sail video on Youtube, or even the Air Jaws documentaires you’d see on Discovery Channel. Every time I felt the shark was going to appear, there was a thrill to see how the special effects team and director were going to pull it off. While there are really effective CGI shots of the shark, there are some that are Deep Blue Sea level bad, but not enough to take me out of the film, that I experienced at the beginning when Blake Lively’s face was obviously pasted onto a professional surfer’s body. Effects aside, this is a beautiful movie and the air shots above the beach are gorgeous. While Jaws primarily made you afraid of the ocean, this movie promotes respect and awareness.
The film does have its fair share of jumps and scares. It is PG-13 so don’t expect loads of blood and gore but it will push that rating for all its worth. There are very effective cuts and angles to present ultra-violence in a less violent manner and they work perfectly. While there isn’t a memorable theme to the film, the score and sound design were used to great extent conveying the same awe and terror that you would expect from a shark attack film. There were even moments I had seen in the trailer that I didn’t find effective then but when watching the movie, those moments made jump inexplicably party due to the sound. There are times when you don’t really get a good grasp on the size of the shark from sight, but you could hear how big it from each time it breaches the surface to push around a humpback whale carcass or on the attack for our hero. Director Jaume Collet-Serra also tries a few new techniques to thrill audiences by overlaying countdowns and even text messages on screen, which comes off a little too on the nose and millenial, but when Nancy uses a watch to track the shark’s speed, it causes even more butt clenching moments when she enacts a countdown to swim from rock to rock and that countdown is displayed on the screen and the closer it gets to zero, the score keeps pulsates each time louder than before.
The Shallows is a great B-movie experience and it deserves more attention than any other spectacle film this summer as it’s the first time we’ve had a great shark movie since Open Water and it brings to attention a side of Blake Lively I don’t think anyone ever would have expected. It’s a fun experience not to be missed and an actor whose endeavors we should continue to look forward to.
Written by Jacob Johnson on 7/12/16