The Shallows is a lean mean man versus nature tale that sees an injured surfer battle against time and a shark with a vendetta in shallow sea waters. Pretty basic plot. It has no deep philosophical or spiritual undertones like say, The Grey. The Shallows just plays as the most minimal of thrillers and our director and screen writer, Jaume Collet-Serra and Anthony Jaswinski, do remarkably well to infuse the requisite tension though the script would have done well to really embrace the simplicity of its core premise.
Blake Lively is in fine form as our injured surfer, Nancy, holding this film together and giving the audience an emotional conduit. By way of story we learn Nancy is a med school dropout, her mom died of cancer and the beach we see her visit has sentimental value. She also digs surfing and as she gets a feel of this sea for the first time, there are some beautiful wide shots that highlight the freedom that only nature can grant, but also foreshadows the solitude and imprisonment yet to come.
Nancy’s incarceration comes when the vicious shark, playing the role of blood thirsty warden, tips her of her surfboard and rips a chunk out of her thigh. You can feel the rush of fear and adrenaline permeate through the screen when the camera gets as close as possible to Nancy as she reels for her life. She eventually manages to find some refuge on some rocks almost as jagged as the shark’s teeth. This refuge will be for only so long as it is earlier noted that the tide, at its highest, will submerge this rock – a stark contrast to the earlier fantasy of the clear beautiful sea under radiant sunlight.
The Shallows brought to mind The Martian in that, I was fully aware that only med school types brains repulsed by the idea of scoring anything less than 100 percent on tests could stand a chance of surviving this scenario. Unlike the jolly tone of The Martian, Collet-Serra oversees a film that becomes truly brutal at times as Nancy’s punishing predicament tests her on a physical, mental and emotional level. There is of course very little dialogue save for some conversation with a wounded seagull that keeps Nancy company through her travails.
As the tide slowly rises and her refuge slowly becomes a platter, the film transitions from a survival thriller into more of a gritty action adventure as our heroine starts getting more proactive. The film looks to shift from the containment of the rock to an exhilarating kinetic finale as Lively’s physical feats impress as much as her ability to hold this action thriller together. Collet-Serra’s camera is enamoured with his heroine but not in an exploitative way. Aware of the stakes, he just studies every move she makes as the camera photographs her from all angles above and below the water.
I have a soft spot for cinema that manages to tell a story with just visuals and The Shallows is in a great position to do that given the visceral simplicity of the plot and the impressive physicality of its lead performer. But the screenplay unfortunately feels the need to shoehorn in some slightly ponderous moments of filler that diluted the experience of the film and hurt the pacing hampering attempts at the sustained suspense a thriller running at about 80 minutes deserved.
I earlier noted, this film really did not wield any compelling subtext which is fine. I expected our director to accept this film for what it was and strive for a fitting denouement but after what appears to be the satisfying resolution we want, via some fine shots evoking the moment of triumph in Gravity, the screenplay feels the need to add on some unnecessary scenes somewhat diffusing the well-earned catharsis. Petty missteps keep The Shallows from probably being 2016’s Fury Road (too much?).
Right now however, I’m just glad it was good enough to save us from some dry “shallow” jokes from critics.
By: Delali Adogla-Bessafirstname.lastname@example.org/Ghana