PLOT: Upon a giant shark deeply lacerating one of her limbs, a sexy Texan surfer gal must match wills and wits with the Great White and find her way back to shore 200 yards away.
REVIEW: A decade after aptly ambling down his remade hall of horrors via HOUSE OF WAX, Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra has refrained from his annual Liam Neeson collaboration (UNKNOWN, NON-STOP, RUN ALL NIGHT) to undertake THE SHALLOWS - a tautly told if deceptively plotted, largely entertaining killer shark flick that seems more than fit for the upcoming summer season. With a miniscule cast and a demanding breakout one-hander from Blake Lively, THE SHALLOWS is frankly far superior than it should be, especially when considering the ungodly spate of wannabe JAWS knockoffs we've seen proliferate in the past few years. But to say this is a solid movie only as a result of low expectations isn't quite accurate either. The script by Anthony Jaswinski (VANISHING ON 7TH STREET, SATANIC) makes the most of a single-set scenario and gives a character in Lively's one we can wholeheartedly side with. Not a great movie, but believe it or not, THE SHALLOWS is far deeper than it appears!
Nancy (Lively) is a sexy blonde Texan ready to scope some primo waves at a nameless, secluded Mexican beach. And not just any beach, the same beach her now deceased mother used to frequent back when she was pregnant with Nancy. She hikes a ride through the verdant foliage with a local named Carlos (Oscar Jaenada), hoping for her hungover bestie to meet her down on the sand. But when Nancy's friend cries ill, she's forced to surf the epic swells alone. Before she suits up and hops in the water a second time however, she Facetime's her sister Chloe (Sedona Legge) and ends up talking to her dad (Brett Cullen), where we learn Nancy is a recent med-school absentee who has lost faith in medicine ever since her mother died of cancer. This vital bit of back-story serves quite important later on in the film, and feels earned and organic in so doing and not sappily woven in. But before that, Nancy paddles into the surf and meets two other local surfer-bros who admonish her about the lay of the beach - jagged rocks, fire coral reefs, riptide currents, etc. As the two dudes leave at the end of the day, Nancy vows to catch one last wave before she herself departs. As you can rightly predict however, things don't go quite so swimmingly.
Or do they? Once abruptly knocked off her board in the middle of catching an epic tube, Nancy's body is slammed on a bed of sharp rocks. When she comes to, the quad muscle of her leg is suddenly gouged by a large great white shark, yet she somehow manages to find a relative safe haven on a puny little island-rock. But the small atoll will soon submerge. The tides will ebb and flow, the sunshine will beam down, time will no doubt run out. So too will the blood from her deep puncture wound. It therefore becomes an intense ticking clock rush to not only combat the unforgiving cruelties of nature, Nancy must ultimately match wills and wits with the blood-parched, multi-ton prehistoric predator. There's some pretty legitimate jolts, too! I can't spoil too much in regards to how she attempts this, but trust that it's far more unpredictable than you might expect. For instance, there's a subplot involving a broken-winged seagull that, for most of the duration, stays at Nancy's side on the soon to be submersible rock. What most are bound to implore her to do with said bird and what she actually does with it are wildly incongruent, almost refreshingly so. The last thing you want in a flick like this, one so obviously floundering in the massive shadow of JAWS, is to be easily foreseeable. Fortunately, THE SHALLOWS, for the most part, avoids such easy to spot plot machinations.
But make no mistake, this is the Blake show through and through. Lively dominates almost every single frame of the film, tasked with delivering a convincing, physically exigent performance that calls for much more than simply posing as the Loreal model she's known to be. And she excels. It's her who gives THE SHALLOWS an antithetical depth you'd never expect from what could have easily been an insipid, throwaway summertime B-movie. Sure, there are some shamelessly exploitative Baywatch body-shots involved, but almost immediately, Nancy comes off as such a caring and affable character that she's almost impossible to dislike. But there's one critical scene toward the end of the flick in which, after snagging a floating Go-pro camera in the ripples, Nancy films an emotionally fraught goodbye to her dad and sister. Props to Collett-Serra for pulling a Jonathan Demme and lensing Lively in direct address to the camera, as it's her heartfelt speech in this one scene that clearly elevates the movie from a tackily derivative piece of venal junk onto a however higher plateau. It's the deft script and credible acting that make the overly familiar subject matter not only tolerable, but actually feel more enthralling than we're used to.
Not that the movie is entirely faultless. First off, at 87 minutes, its sheer size and scope is so small that it's an intrinsically minor work. This is no sweeping epic. No masterstroke. There are also a few CG shots of the shark that didn't quite pass the credibility test. But these are low-grade gripes, overall the movie does more things well than it does poorly. It's tightly scripted, believably acted, sharply directed and most importantly, entertaining throughout. So if you're into killer shark flicks, no matter how familiar, definitely give this one a peep this summertime. In terms of plot, the movie may deceptively live up to its title. But as a viscerally entertaining cinematic vice, THE SHALLOWS is much deeper than it touts itself as!