Sharks used to be one of the scourges of the cinema screen. Back in 1975 Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Jaws, from the Peter Benchley novel of the same name, turned the ocean into something fearful and frightening. When I first saw Jaws as a child my next steps into the ocean, on a holiday in France, were far from intrepid. The water barely made it up to my knees before I scurried back to the safety of land. However since then sharks have dissipated from the mainstream consciousness and have become a primarily B-Movie feature, like giant spiders or Tara Reid. Instead of the dread of seeing a fin carving through the water we watch as cheap digital tornados spin sharks round and fling them across green screens towards David Hasselhoff. So imagine my excitement at the prospect of seeing the shark return to the big screen with experienced horror director Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, Orphan) behind the camera for what looked like an interesting survival thriller.
So Blake Lively has found her way to a secret and highly secluded beach that holds a deep sentimental value for her. She spends the day surfing and on her last wave before heading to shore she is toppled by a Great White Shark and left stranded on a small rock. Thus begins her character’s struggle to stay alive and not become shark chow whilst occasionally talking to a nearby seagull. The first hour of The Shallows is refreshingly interesting and although the film is set almost entirely in a single location the natural beauty of the area is exploited to great effect by Collet-Serra and DOP Flavio Labiano. Blake Lively delivers a terrifically fraught, physical performance and having been entrusted with carrying an entire film on her shoulders she is more than up to the challenge. There was a realistic quality to the films treatment of its high concept design. Woman stranded on rock with a shark circling is an intriguing sentence but not enough to carry a 90 minute movie without some clever nuances to expand the plot. What Collet-Serra and screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski do cleverly is raise the stakes in a very controlled, convincing manner. The shark becomes almost an inconsequential spectator to the action needing to do little else but sit and wait as Blake Lively’s Nancy has to contend with the exposure to the elements, treating her own injuries with the few items she has at her disposal and maintaining her mental strength throughout as her odds of survival slowly but inevitably decrease making for a taut and impressive thriller.
However the last act takes a rather drastic turn and if you wish to avoid minor spoilers feel free to skip to the next paragraph to get my overall summation of the film. I’m not going to spoil what exactly happens but rather describe the tonal and thematic shift The Shallows makes in its final half hour. Basically having set its stall out as a tense thriller in a thematically similar vein as Rodrigo Cortes’s Buried (which stars Lively’s husband Ryan Reynolds in a similarly demanding lead role) The Shallows suddenly flips into a B-Movie-esque woman vs shark action film. The shark began the film as simply a force of nature, an unseen predator in a domain where humans do not rule, only to turn into a sentient serial killer, a conscious villain who wishes to attack Nancy not out of primal instinct but because the script needs the shark to do so. The film-makers might aswell have given the shark a twirly moustache and an English accent.
The Shallows boasts a highly impressive performance from Blake Lively and an engaging first hour that is just a final act away from being one of the year’s best thrillers. Flavio Labinio’s beautiful photography captures the natural beauty of the exotic locations which contrasts perfectly with the rigours of surviving outside of our controlled environments. A gorgeous looking film, with a few issues towards the end, still worth checking out if you like a good thriller, or watching sharks eating people if you’re into that sort of thing.
Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra
Scr: Anthony Jaswinski
Cast: Blake Lively
Prd: Lynn Harris, Matti Leshern
DOP: Flavio Labiano
Music: Marco Beltrami
Run time: 86 Minutes
The Shallows is out now in UK cinemas