Another Look at ‘The Shallows’



Stephen Porzio wades in.

The Shallows is an example of a fairly standard and unoriginal genre picture yet manages to be far more entertaining that its premise would suggest. Blake Lively plays Nancy, a Texan surfer, who takes time out of her medical degree to journey to Mexico. Her goal is to discover a secret beach which was of great significance to her recently deceased mother. While surfing close to coast, she happens upon the dead body of a large whale. Without realising, Nancy has stumbled upon a shark’s feeding ground and is subsequently attacked. Close enough to see the shore but not to reach it, our protagonist must leap-frog from the dead whale to a tiny piece of land and then to a buoy in order to stay above water – avoiding her predator. However, with the tide rising and Nancy becoming weak from the scars of the shark’s original onslaught – can Nancy survive?

While sharing a plot similar to various survivalist sea-set thrillers such as Open Water or The Reef, The Shallows still manages to engage due to its stripped back nature. It’s only 86 minutes, meaning the film never drags, delivering tense set-piece after tense set-piece. Also, its script by Anthony Jaswinski (which was included in 2014’s Black List – a list of the best unproduced screenplays), despite being slightly clichéd, is very economical in terms of information and time. There are no superfluous scenes. The audience is given everything they need to know but nothing else, briefly and efficiently, allowing the film to maintain its quick pace while still enabling the viewer to root for the protagonist. It’s also a very funny script, managing to stack the deck against Nancy in more convoluted but enjoyably bizarre ways as it continues.

However, the writer is not the only person worthy of credit. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (whose output is almost entirely entertaining films with average premises) adds a sheen to proceedings. Having worked in both the horror genre (Orphan, House of Wax) and the action genre (Non-Stop, Run All Night), he is the perfect choice to tackle a survivalist thriller. He manages to the convey the horror of Nancy’s situation with great skill as evident by The Shallows sound-mix. While another director would use visual gore to portray our hero’s suffering, Collet-Serra emphasises the loud bangs as Nancy crashes into jagged rocks and stinging coral to create a more visceral experience. His talents as an action director also shine through in his staging of the shark sequences. They manage to be both inventive (a shark-attack seen from the POV of the victim’s GoPro is genius) and coherent. In relation to the latter, one is always aware where Nancy is in relation to her attacker which serves to heighten tension.

Blake Lively (The Town, Green Lantern), who is often type-cast in a bland love interest role, makes for a rather charismatic final girl of sorts. Essentially carrying the movie by herself, she is forced to convey every emotion from joyous optimism upon finding the secret beach, to terror at her situation and then to acceptance of her predicament. Lively is up to the task, even entertaining as she talks to a seagull (hilariously dubbed Steven Seagull) a la Wilson in Cast Away, adding levity. Her performance, a tight script and efficient direction raise The Shallows above its predictable premise, reminding that even serviceable films can be quite good in the right hands.



The Shallows is currently in cinemas



Review: The Shallows

Nancy (Blake Lively) in Columbia Pictures' THE SHALLOWS.

DIR:Jaume Collet-Serra • WRI: Anthony Jaswinski • PRO: Lynn Harris, Matti Leshem • DOP: Flavio Martínez Labiano • ED: Joel Negron • DES: Hugh Bateup • MUS: Marco Beltrami • CAST: Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen 


On arriving at a secret beach she was told about by her late mother, stressed-out medical student Nancy (Blake Lively) finally feels like she can catch some waves, bask in the sun, and chill out – despite the worries of her family about where she is.

Two local guys give her advice about the best places to surf, and soon enough she’s blissfully happy – for a while at least, until she seems something large a bit further out in the deep blue. Curious, she finds that it’s the wrecked carcass of a whale – and that there are already guests at the mammalian table.

Making for the shore, she gets bumped by a shark and is flailing in the water when she feels a tug on her leg, and there’s a bloom of blood around her. She (just) makes it to a small rock island nearby, with an also-injured seagull flapping up onto the outcrop alongside her. Now all she can do is watch as the other surfer dudes drive away – and then wonder what will happen when the tide comes in…

Time ticks by, the next day comes, and the guys return for another day surfing – only this time Nancy’s yelling at them not to get into the water; she’s seen a drunken beach bum who rifled her bag and then tried to retrieve her board pay the price, and if these two don’t see her and get help, she might not ever be found.

Alas, the two guys are soon chums in more than one way, and now Nancy (and her winged friend she calls “Steven”) are truly alone. The sun’s beating, Nancy’s wounds are suppurating, and so she risks getting one of the guys’ battered GoPro in order to record her last message home.

But is she going to just wait to die, or make one last desperate swim for the red buoy that’s tantalizingly close – but of course means she has to swim through the danger zone to get there….

One of the most instantly-accessible types of horror pics – the shark genre has even made it into parody with Sharknado and many other SyFy channel-style hybrids – this is a film you’ll either immediately want to see, or (possibly because a shark attack, rare as they are, is one of your nightmares) will avoid at all costs.

Blake Lively utterly holds her own in what’s essentially a solo effort, using her brains more than her brawn in an attempt to try and survive – and then outrun – something that sees her as a small snack.

There’s some bloody, wince-inducing moments and inevitable comparisons to the daddy of all shark movies, Jaws, (the end sequence at one point absolutely brings back memories of the battle on the Orca) – but at a brisk 86 minutes it never stops being entertaining, follows the crucial rule of holding back on showing the toothy villain too much, makes the location look like paradise, and doesn’t offer too many cheesy cop-outs or laughably unlikely beats.

More than that, it showcases the acting talents of what is clearly the best-trained seagull in the history of filmmaking. Seemingly not a CGI or animatronic beast, Steven the Seagull is a welcome friend for Nancy – a beaked “Wilson” if you like – and you almost hope he gets away more than she does….

As for box office, it made the budget back on opening weekend in the USA alone, so I think we can safely expect another trip out there…



James Bartlett

86 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

The Shallows is released 12th August 2016

The Shallows – Official Website