One the surface “The Shallows” isn’t a film that would normally catch my eye. Neither Blake Lively in the lead role nor frequent Liam Neeson collaborator Jaume Collet-Serra directing was enough to draw my interest. But it’s amazing how a slick, compelling trailer can change your perspective.
In the Neeson thriller “Non-Stop” Collet-Serra played within the small confined space of a Boeing 767. Here he does the same, trading in the tight spaces of a jet plane for a remote Mexican beach. The bulk of the story takes place in a small isolated lagoon. It’s here that Lively’s character Nancy ends her emotional pilgrimage to find a favorite surfing spot of her recently deceased mother.
The simplicity of the story is actually a strength. We are fed small chunks of backstory that are a bit on the nose, but still brief enough to add context without distracting. The bulk of the story focuses on Nancy’s experience on the beach and what an experience it is. Her emotional release soon becomes a fight for survival after she is attacked by a shark and left stranded on a small reef.
“The Shallows” ultimately becomes an ocean water survival thriller mixed with shark horror in a tone reminiscent of “Jaws”. It works for a number of reasons namely that Collet-Serra and company never lose their lean and simple focus. It maintains its course steadily building up tension and offering up a handful of legitimate scares. It also works thanks to some fantastic cinematography featuring some great overhead shots and even better underwater photography.
While all of that is important to the film’s success, Blake Lively is the anchor. I have to admit, I was surprised by her strong and gutsy performance. For the most part she carries the movie on her shoulders and she puts it all out there both physically and emotionally. It is a demanding role which Lively is more than capable of handling.
Those unable to put aside an overly critical eye could dwell on a cheesy scene or two. They could point out a couple of preposterous things that happen in the final act. But I find it hard to imagine that someone wouldn’t find this to be a fun and entertaining ride especially considering the deluge of mediocre films so far this summer. “The Shallows” wisely stays true to its central concept. Its hook could easily wear thin if it extended itself too far, but the compact 80 minute running time keeps the tension high and the story moving forward. It keeps its bite and, unlike that pesky shark, it never overstays its welcome.
VERDICT – 4 STARS