The Shallows,
directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
(Columbia, 2016)

The Shallows is a modern Jaws, but instead of a giant shark menacing a busy resort town, it's menacing a secluded beach and, in particular, one lone surfer girl who is trapped within the shark's ever tightening circles.

Nancy (Blake Lively) has sought out a remote Mexican beach (filmed in Australia) to reconnect with her recently deceased mother, and she spends a quiet day there surfing in the company of two other young men she encounters there. But she foolishly stays out for one last wave after they both call it a day, and she drifts close to a rotting whale carcass that has attracted, of course, a giant shark that apparently prefers fresh meat over the recently dead. For reasons, Nancy doesn't immediately flee the area, and she attracts the shark's attention with her splashing.

She survives the initial attack and, badly hurt, takes refuge on a tiny outcropping of coral that will eventually disappear beneath the rising tide. The beach is too far to swim in her condition -- with a shark on her tail -- and the only other sanctuary is a nearby buoy. A few other people end up in the water -- for whom the movie ends badly -- but for the most part The Shallows is just Lively, the CGI shark and a vast expanse of blue water.

It's not a classic film that will reinvent the wheel the way Jaws did in 1975, but it's suspenseful, tense and gorgeously shot. Lively carries the film largely alone -- there's very little character interaction, minimal dialogue and even the shark is only on screen for about four minutes -- and she deftly handles the challenge.

Sure, it would be easy to quibble over details -- like, for instance, the likelihood that a shark would tirelessly stalk a single scrawny human when there's a massive whale buffet close by, and to be honest I'm not entirely sure about the physics involved in the film's denouement -- but The Shallows achieves its goal of being a pretty good shark movie. And that's all I was looking for when I watched it.

review by
Tom Knapp

11 March 2017

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