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Review: The Shallows (2016)

The Shallows (2016)

Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra

Premise: A surfer (Blake Lively) is attacked by a great white shark. Wounded and alone, she is stranded on a rock formation 200 yards from shore while the shark waits her out.

What Works: The Shallows is an extremely well-crafted motion picture. The look of the movie changes over the course of its story. The first portion of The Shallows takes on the style of a travelogue and it is gorgeously filmed with many beauty shots of the landscape and the ocean. The surfing action in this part of the film is also well captured using the styles of extreme sports videos. But after the shark attack the filmmakers adopt subtle changes to the look of the movie; from that point on The Shallows has a darker color scheme and its imagery incorporates some of the grittier and less photogenic qualities of the natural landscape. Borrowing some techniques from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (which Spielberg adopted from Alfred Hitchcock movies), the filmmakers set the camera near the water’s edge, allowing the lens to dip beneath the surface and suggest the unknown threats that may be lurking underwater. The filmmakers of The Shallows also use sound especially well. The aural effects of the surf and the music score by Marco Beltrami mix together well and the filmmakers show good sense of when to use sound and announce the danger but also when to hold back. The soundtrack enhances the dread of the movie without cheapening it and the sound is a key part of the well-choreographed attack sequences. The intimate nature of the story and the restrained scale of the moviemaking proves very effective. In a summer movie marketplace filled with overlong and overproduced tent pole event films, there is an efficiency and focus to The Shallows that is refreshing. This is a popcorn movie but it’s also very lean in a way that a lot of big budget Hollywood movies are not; that makes the stakes of The Shallows much more convincing and the intimate focus is much more involving that so many sci-fi stories about the end of the world. The special effects of The Shallows are mostly convincing. For whatever reason, when sharks and other aquatic animals have been presented as digital characters they tend to look cartoonish but the effects in The Shallows are quite good. The Shallows is a story of survival; it has a very basic premise that the filmmakers work through it logically, more or less. The stranded surfer has to be intelligent and resourceful in order to survive and the character makes mostly credible decisions. In that respect, The Shallows benefits tremendously from Blake Lively’s performance as the surfer. The story provides just enough backstory to make her more than a woman in danger and Lively is a watchable presence who is able to carry the movie.

What Doesn’t: The Shallows strains its credibility in numerous places. Viewers who know anything about shark behavior will find all sorts of holes. The animal behaves like a rogue shark, the discredited theory that a shark will haunt a particular place while searching for people to eat, and the great white of The Shallows feeds more frequently than a shark would need to. Blake Lively’s character isn’t nearly as handicapped by her injuries as she ought to be. For someone who has suffered a bite to the leg she is still able to swim pretty well. The most absurd happenings of The Shallows are saved for the ending which includes a series of incredulous events. However, the logical gaps of The Shallows are also part of the fun of the movie and to be fair the lapses of realism in both shark behavior and story credibility are not really any more egregious here than they were in the original Jaws. But because The Shallows has such an intimate focus these errors tend to stick out that much more.

Bottom Line: The Shallows is a fun thriller. The movie is exactly what it appears to be and not much more but it delivers exactly what’s promised and does it very well.

Episode: #602 (July 10, 2016)