A fun piece of throwaway cinema, The Shallows is a sleek, beautifully shot, and mostly satisfying thriller that plays it smart and simple, only faltering by opting for a schlocky climax. It’s not the new Jaws by any stretch of the imagination, but where that movie transcended genre, The Shallows cleverly plays with it.
Blake Lively (Green Lantern, Savages) carries its brisk 87 minutes almost entirely on her own, aided by a few co-stars, the most prevalent of whom is a seagull. Lively plays Nancy, a med school dropout who treks to a secret Mexico beach that she last visited with her recently deceased mother, for a little surfing and soul searching. She’s come here to be alone, a decision that will come back to bite her in more ways than one.
Nancy makes the mistake of swimming out to catch one last wave, and fails to piece together a couple of clues in time to realize she’s wandered into the midst of the feeding waters of a great white shark. Faster than you can say “We’re gonna need a bigger boat”, she’s stranded on a small rocky outcrop at low tide with a mangled leg, circled by an apex predator and within spitting distance of a beach that might as well be miles away, with rescue unlikely.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Run All Night) and screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski do an excellent job of getting us to root for Nancy — not because she’s a relatable or deeply drawn character (she’s neither), but because as with all good man-vs.-wild survival stories, they put her through a non-stop series of privations and setbacks. There’s nothing too grotesque or insurmountable — this is a PG-13 summertime popcorn flick, not The Revenant of shark movies. Still, watching a woman suture her leg with a necklace and pair of earrings is likely to stick with you for a little while.
There’s little pretense in the premise or its execution. Collet-Serra’s action chops and pacing seem to finally gel here, and that plus Marco Beltrami’s stark score and Joel Negron’s (The Nice Guys) editing ratchet up the tension to match the stakes. Flavio Labiano’s cinematography is impeccable, subverting beautiful underwater photography and landscape vistas with those of stark terror and primal ferocity. There’s a surprising amount of depth to The Shallows.