In the modern summers where tentpoles pile upon tentpoles and multiplexes seem full to the brim of high-budget franchises, The Shallows has snuck in as a welcome breath of fresh air and throwback to the low-budget B-movie-esque films that seem to have hugely dissipated in recent years.
Blake Lively carries the film as a surfer who, when venturing out to a beach her mother used to frequent, is attacked by a shark, and is forced to fight for survival. This relatively simple premise is elevated by Lively’s acting, effective direction and the entrancing cinematography of the first act, all of which combine to create a more taut and memorable piece than it otherwise could have been.
It is the protagonist of Nancy, and Lively’s great acting, that helps to make the film compelling. Little comments on her way to the beach help to paint a picture of her character as fairly headstrong yet sentimental. Similarly, the caution she exhibits when she first meets two other surfers helps to make her more realistic and thus more relatable. This elevates the realism of the whole ordeal, and helps the audience to root for a better-drawn heroine (if not fully developed) than the more old-fashioned lone-survivor films do. Despite this, it still manages to put in unnecessary, misogynistic cleavage shots which will take you out of the film for the moment as you cringe and try to comprehend that this is a film made for 2016.
There are great swells of tension in the film through the moments of action that interrupt the quiet contemplation. One of the most effective sequences is a gruesome self-surgery scene after the initial shark attack that is executed brilliantly to induce much wincing from the audience. The various moments of the shark’s return are often effective, some less so than others, but spread out to maintain a good pace. However, the final attack comes in the form of a pretty ridiculous climax that may provide thrills but also bewilderment.
To truly enjoy this film, you have to switch off that bit of your brain that thinks about how coincidental it is that Nancy happens to be a medical student, or whether the shark’s behaviour is accurate. It is fun Summer popcorn fair and should be taken as such. The film’s use of technology is also interesting in allowing the audience to get a bigger picture of Nancy’s life in an interesting way, but this too could make you wonder about the quality of phone reception.
Overall, The Shallows is an effective survival thriller that may be flawed, but is a nice break from what has become the typical Summer fair.