By Christian DiMartino
I can just imagine the pitch for Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows. I expect it went a little something like this:
“Okay, so we have this blonde babe, and dude, she’s totally bangin’, and she’s in medical school right? So she goes out surfing, and then… A shark attacks her. Like, isn’t that totally crazy?”
Yeah, something like that.
When I saw the trailers for The Shallows, I wanted to believe it was going to work. Serra, since Orphan, has done nothing but thrillers that have won me over, such as Unknown, Non-Stop, and Run All Night. And dammit, he got me again. The Shallows is a fun little white knuckler that proves that shark movies don’t have to be Sharknado.
The opening twenty minutes, I’ll admit, take a second to get things afloat. We find Nancy (Blake Lively), a medical student, on the way to a private beach. She doesn’t even know the name, but it’s a place that her late mother would’ve loved, so she’s going in her honor. We see conversations between her and her family, and while they’re an admirable attempt at character development, these moments feel a little cheesy. On shore, it doesn’t work.
But then she decides to go surfing, and thankfully, the film is anything but dead in the water. While out there, she is (wait for it), attacked by a shark, and out of desperation, swims to a dead whale, and then to Dwayne Johnson… I mean, the rock, in which she will fight for survival and what not.
It’s a simple premise, and one might say it’s not much of a movie. True. But man, once Blake ends up in the water, strap in. I’m not gonna say that The Shallows is in the same league as Jaws, but it is the best shark film in a long, long time.
If you can look past the occasional fault (and a few cheesy effects), The Shallows is a fun, refreshing, beautifully filmed, thrilling white-knuckler, anchored by a strong performance from Lively. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen her in a lead role (I bailed on The Age of Adaline), but what she does here isn’t easy. She has a whole film to carry on her shoulders, and she certainly does. Whether she’s on a whale, or a rock, or a buoy, we’re always pulling for her. She also adds the right amount of humanity to this performance, and I won’t deny that watching her go into beast mode is nothing short of a thrill.
Which can also be said about the film itself. I ain’t telling you that The Shallows is art. But what I will tell you is that it’s better than it looks. And in a summer filled with visual spectacles that have missed the mark (Alice Through the Looking Glass, Warcraft, and, from what I gather, Independence Day: Resurgence), it’s nice to a big show with a brain.
Now that’s entertainment.