Beware – spoilers ahead!
Directed by Jaume Collet-Setta and written by Anthony Jaswinski, The Shallows is about a medical school student, Nancy Adams (Blake Lively), who travels to Mexico as she grieves the loss of her mother to cancer. She visits the same beach that her mother visited when she was pregnant with Nancy, and as we soon see during a video conversation with her father, that she is considering dropping out of medical school. Her father reminds her that her “mother was a fighter,” to which Nancy replies that “the outcome was still the same,” regardless of how much fighting she did. She ends the call and we see her catch some waves with a few of the natives (spoiler: Nancy is a good surfer, at least, to my untrained eye).
After some more waves, the two men go to leave and ask if she is coming along. She declines, wanting to catch one last one before she leaves. She soon spots a dead whale carcass in the distance, and she swims closer to it. Realizing the whale was mauled, she swims away quickly, where she is attacked by a shark. She escapes by swimming to the carcass and climbing on top of it, but when the shark starts bumping the whale, trying to knock her back into water, she escapes to a nearby rock. It is here where she meets a wounded seagull, appropriately named Steven Seagull, a victim of the shark’s attack, as well.
Through the progression of the film, we see Nancy as she tries to survive the shark’s brutal attacks and the elements. We come to find through the course of the story that her mother’s fight is very much present in her. Nancy also becomes aware of this throughout her journey, and at the end of the film, she discovers that she was wrong, that fighting can change the outcome of a struggle.
Lively truly gives an immense performance in The Shallows. There is a large portion of the film where the action was solely focused on her, and she was 100% believable. So believable and engaging that I really did not miss the presence of any other supporting characters. There was sufficient conflict with the shark that it made us see her character unfold, and made us see what lengths she would go to survive. I found this maximum use of character, especially in combination with the minimum use of space, truly impressive. With horror and some types of thrillers, particularly survival thrillers, a lot of space is required to move the action forward. For example, most apocalyptic survival horrors/thrillers move around a great deal, from city to city or state to state, even. A lot of horror movies depict characters running from house to house or city to city, playing on the tension that no matter how far they run, they will never be able to truly escape the threat. However, this element of space is very limited in the story, and yet, that is part of what drives the story forward. Only 200 yards between her and safety, but she would have to swim through shark-infested water to get there. How will she survive? That is the tension that propels us into being so engaged with the story, and it was very effectively utilized in the film.
Also notably, the use of dialogue is also very limited. There are a few times where Nancy might talk to the bird or mumble something to herself, but it was minimal. The action is what carries the story for the most part. I thought this was a fascinating way to change things up, because there are a lot of horror/thriller movies that fall in the trap of the characters narrating unnecessary details. It was nice to see a film that was concise in this way.
Overall, it is a good film that is engaging and has amazing pacing of events that keep the viewer engaged. My chief complaints were that some of the effects were cheesy, but I could overlook that in the sake of enjoying a good story. But, my other complaint was the last showdown with the shark. I don’t want to give the whole thing away, but it just seemed a little to contrived for me. It was almost like we saw this very medically gifted woman magically transform into a badass James Bond, which was a little too contrived for me, and was very unsatisfying.
On the whole, a good movie with breathtaking shots of some beautiful water and gorgeous scenery. And, while it was by no means approaches Jaws status, it is still a fun diversion for a time you want to see a decent, not-too-terrifying film.
Final rating: 💀💀💀💀 / 5 skulls