Shark movies is another flavor of horror genre that I’m typically a very easy lay for. The Shallows is a very slick production and better quality than we’ve gotten over the last many years from Syfy’s collection of Sharknado films. Most often shark films are campy fun, but every so often someone takes a swing at making a genuine thriller on the order of Open Water or Jaws. The Shallows doesn’t hit it out of the park, but while at one point it seems like it might make it over the wall, but then somewhere around the third base the film just stops, sits down, and waits to get tagged out.
Based on a script by Anthony Jaswinski and directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the film is very nearly a one person film. That one person is in the form of Nancy, played by Blake Lively. There’s only eleven names in the entire cast, but that includes some people that only appear briefly from a distance and others over video calls, and one seagull. Yes, really. An actual seagull credited as Sully “Steven” Seagull. It does play a relevant role in a few scenes, so it may well be the first gull with a SAG card.
Nancy’s mother has recently passed away and she’s now on a trip to an isolated and remote beach. Her mother had always spoken of loving the location and had visited last when she was pregnant with Nancy. She arrives at the beach and quickly suits up and goes out to catch some waves on her surfboard. Being so remote it doesn’t seem the wisest thing, but she heads to it anyway. She discovers a whale carcass floating offshore but decides to leave it alone. She continues to surf, but when she is on her last ride back to short, a huge great white comes up and knocks her off. She’s injured, but manages to make it to a small rocky outcrop. Now the race is on – she’s only a few hundred meters from shore, but there’s a huge shark with a very bad attitude that appears to have a particular annoyance for anyone who got too close to it’s whale buffet.
There’s plenty of peripheral danger other than the shark as well – with occasional floating clusters of poisonous jellyfish and razor-sharp coral. There’s some genuinely ugly looking battle damage that Nancy acquires during the first two acts. Just adding to the problem of dripping fresh blood where there’s a hungry shark.
The reason that the film isn’t able to hold up throughout and become something memorable isn’t because of Lively, or the seagull – but rather because the corner Jaswinski paints himself into in the script is that once we’ve established how fast the shark is, and how fast she can swim and move, there’s no practical way that she can make it to any kind of safety. The shortcuts that get thrown in during the third act are simply too contrived and stand out against the attempt at a “this could really happen” type of message. When you make up the rules as you go along, you can have a Sharknado and really no matter how nuts you get, it’s alright – you’ve established that you’re not taking it overly seriously. Here we’re trying to have a realistic setting and shark, but then adding in fantastical elements and feats in order to keep things from ending in a very abbreviated fashion.
If you like shark thrillers, you might want to give this one a go. The Shallows isn’t bad, it’s just not good, and when you’ve got an actress that’s selling it with a stellar performance, and all the CGI the production could handle whatever was dreamed up, unfortunately Collet-Serra and Jaswinski wasn’t up to the task of finishing out the project.
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