The Shallows

When you make a shark movie, the bar is pretty high.  Comparisons with Jaws are inevitable and frankly they’re never going to be in your favor.  Fortunately, the creative team behind The Shallows realized that and didn’t try to top the Spielberg masterpiece.  They just made a taut, suspenseful thriller without pretension or much artifice.

Nancy, played by Blake Lively, is a young medical student who is considering dropping out.  Her mother recently died of cancer and she needs to take some time to think about things.  She decides to go to the same secluded beach in Mexico that her mother visited when she was a young girl for a few days of surfing.  Unfortunately the beach turns out to be a feeding ground for an angry great white shark.  Nancy gets stranded on a rock 200 meters from the shore with a nasty shark bite in her leg.

What follows, of course, is a survival story where this plucky resourceful woman battles nature and her own demons.  The plot is as old as the art of storytelling but we never tire of a new iteration, especially if it’s well done and suspenseful.  And The Shallows is.

The director, Jaume Collet-Serra, employs a lot of Spielberg’s techniques.  For most of the movie you never get to see much of the shark other than blurry shots of a toothy maw coming towards you.  And for much the same reasons.  Spielberg couldn’t get his mechanical shark to work consistently.  I think the filmmakers here didn’t have the budget to do more than a couple computer generated shark attacks.  And from the effects that were shown it’s obvious that they couldn’t afford the best effects company.  The filmmakers knew enough though not to hold those shots for too long and the cheesiness of the effects doesn’t detract much.

There are also a lot of underwater, shark’s point of view shots.  Close ups of hands and feet below the surface are plentiful and nerve-wracking.  Get that hand out of the water before you lose it!

They build tension in other ways, too.  In the first scene, Nancy is being driven out to the beach by Carlos, played by Oscar Jaenada, who is a scruffy looking native she’s obviously just met.  Looking at him, you wonder if he is trustworthy.  Actually he turns out to be a nice guy, who encourages her to look at the scenery and won’t take any money for driving her out.  He has a family and lives near the beach.

There are also two surfers already there.  She keeps her distance from them when she’s out on the water.  Near the end of the day, they’re going home and she’s out looking for one last wave.  She watches them suspiciously as they pass by her backpack on the sand.  They don’t take it.  They’re nice guys too.  Nancy’s only enemy is the shark.

I like the constricted ambitions of this film.  They aren’t trying to push any boundaries here.  Their goal is to make as good a thriller as they can.

And they succeed.


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June 2016
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