Movie Review: ‘THE SHALLOWS’ – A brisk thriller with one hell of a bite


James Cole Clay // Film Critic

THE SHALLOWS | 87  min | PG-13
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Blake LivelyÓscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen and Sedona Legge

JAWS is a movie that came out in 1975. It’s a singular masterpiece that the sun-soaked summer thriller THE SHALLOWS owes every ounce of gratitude for its premise. But they’re different movies and these are different times.

This is an era where the shark is CG, allowing  the possibilities to widen and more margin for error, while the predecessor’s monstrosity became life-like as ever and is cemented in film history (within the limitations of a rubber model).

Even against all odds, THE SHALLOWS finds its way to being a clever, tension filled chompfest that functions as its own unique experience.

The film sees Nancy (Blake Lively) as a lonely traveler searching to surf a lost beach that her recently deceased mother discovered 25 years prior. She’s there to uncover some sort of self-realized perspective on life, since ditching med school with one year remaining.

After surfing some gnarly waves and noticing a near beached whale, Nancy suddenly beefs it on a literal point break and becomes caught in the crosshairs of a great white shark that struggles to ever seem real. This becomes most difficult obstacle the film has trouble to overcome.

Yet, director Jaume Collet-Serra (NON-STOP) still manages to tighten his grip with each passing minute he has, while Lively bleeds upon an isolated rock 200 yards from shore. He finds how to make the formulaic thriller elements novel while keeping the plotting simple and (largely) dialogue free. This is the type of B-movie fun that really deserves a Summer release– the mood and atmosphere has a looming dread running throughout, with just a twinge of camp, thanks to Lively’s performance that was tailor made to her likeness.

Blake Lively in the throes of battle with a Great White (photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Blake Lively in the throes of battle with a Great White. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

This could easily become a cult hit for many years down the line, encapsulating this decade with the use of GoPro cameras. Even a couple of surfer bros (Angelo Lozano and Yuco Trujillo) Nancy encounters on the beach sport the cameras. And while their flirty attitude may spell “d-a-n-g-e-r” for Nancy, there’s no victimization by the few people she meets. We already have enough cheap ways of drawing attention to the peril she’s in with a 20-foot shark lurking below.

Nancy uses her all of her cunning by MacGyvering her way through this miserable experience. There’s coral, jellyfish, the glaring sun draining Nancy of her abilities, and Lively’s long frame uses every ounce of body language to track her exhaustion from cracked lips to gangrene.

With everything introduced, Serra always gives the audience a pay-off– nothing is forgotten and we’re reminded all you need is a girl, a shark and a flare gun. It doesn’t take a cartographer to figure out the landscape in which Serra is working on. You can feel the gravity and the toll it takes on Nancy with each and every stroke.

With an array of medium shots and birds-eye view of the clear blue ocean, you realize how insignificant her life is in the grand scheme, but that never stops the heroine from fighting. This is a one woman show that’s title truly lives up with the “shallow” content, and even though the third act takes a bit of a nose dive. However, it comes back up for air with a grand finale that provides a trashy and ultimately satisfying conclusion.

THE SHALLOWS is a fresh take on a familiar outline that is marred in blood and a few mangled corpses, keeping the breathless tension afloat. With the dirtiness of an exploitation film
matched with the formula of the studio system, this mid-summer thriller should wave its dorsal fin loud and proud.

THE SHALLOWS opens today.

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.