The Shallows | Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Sully “Steven” Seagull, a big damn shark | Writer: Anthony Jaswinski | Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Of all the fears shared by huge swathes of humanity, few are as terrifying as the thought of being torn to shreds by a ravenous shark. The concept of aqua-thrillers may have popularized by Spielberg’s opus Jaws so many years ago, few have been able to match the existential dread and dismay that was impeccably captured in that 1975 film.
While Hooper, Quint, and Brody had the relative comfort of The Orca among the open sea, this latest addition in the genre could revive your aquaphobia to intolerable levels. The Shallows will strip your nerves raw with its ambitious camerawork and rugged ‘relationship’ between a woman and an oversized Carcharodon carcharias.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra finally manages to create a film that works with his strengths unlike his latest, glaringly predictable fare in Non-Stop and Run All Night. The Shallows harkens back to the ominous flair Collet piled on in 2009’s Orphan, his most seminal (and recognizable) work. While many will see this film (if one can stand close-ups of the world’s most fearsome apex predator) and assume it’s merely another thriller, there’s more here than the thrill of evading a toothy death. The Shallows subtly engages its audience – through our survivor’s memories and motivations – on how life should be constantly valued, not only when a seemingly unstoppable threat is eager to snuff it out. It’s a fantastical story to be sure, yet one thing its lead learns swiftly is to make the best out of every minute. As The Shallows attests, you sure as hell don’t know when – or how – you’re number will be called.
Blake Lively portrays embattled med student Nancy Adams, embarking on a journey of self-discovery after the death of her mother from cancer. Adams is on a nostalgic tour of sorts, visiting locations that her mother frequented, which includes the secluded Mexican beach we’ll be spending all our time in the film. Nancy’s loss is heavy subject matter that’s taken rather lightly (this is a shark film after all), however it doesn’t take much for the audience to recognize that Collet-Serra is placing Adams through a number of physical trials that mirror the emotional strife she’s endured due to her mother’s passing.
If you’ve seen TV spots and trailers for The Shallows, then you pretty much know what goes down: Nancy is surfing, a great white tries to take a bite out of her, her leg is cut up bad by the coral, she finds refuge on a outcrop as the tides slowly lowers while that two-ton beast with dead eyes circles her incessantly. It may not seem like that hefty a premise but believe me, it works. All the credit belongs to cinematographer Flavio Labino for accentuating the gorgeous landscape with fantastic underwater and overhead photography. With Collet-Serra’s craftiness in fashioning kinetic, highly stylized visuals, this pairing has always improved each time they’ve collaborated.
This secluded beach is as lethal as it is beautiful with its jagged structures and native fauna just below the surface. Amid the coral, jellyfish and big-ass great white, Nancy gains a companion in the form of an clipped seagull. It’s every bit a character as Wilson the Volleyball was in Castaway, providing Nancy a reason to vocalize her thoughts and frustrations while occasionally risking her life to reach the safety of a shoreline merely a few hundred feet away.
Eventually The Shallows ramps up its tension in a slightly predictable fashion though in a fairly inventive way (you don’t want spoilers, do you?). Nancy isn’t simply a hot bod in a bikini ripping a few curls, although she does have her proverbial moment in the sun. This trip was meant to draw out some inner peace to quash the overwhelming sense of loss that dwells within her. Life has a funny way of pushing a person. In this case, nothing makes one appreciative about the beauty and frailty of the world when facing death in the form of an unyielding eating machine.
The Shallows, from Columbia Pictures, premieres June 24.
The Shallows = 7.3/10