Shark movies have never had a positive reputation. In fact, most of them are pretty awful. I suppose you can make a case for the “so bad they’re good” Sharknado trilogy. But when it comes to naming a legitimately well-crafted shark film, only Steven Spielberg’s 1975 masterpiece “Jaws” comes to mind. “Jaws” is the grandfather of the shark film genre and has yet to be surpassed. However, I can safely say that “The Shallows” is the greatest shark movie since then. It brings a refreshing feeling of terror to a genre that has turned itself into a joke.
The film follows a surfer named Nancy (played surprisingly well by Blake Lively) as she travels to a secluded beach from her recently deceased mother’s past. Upon discovering a dead whale floating out from shore, she is quickly attacked by an enormous great white shark. While 200 feet from shore nursing an injured leg with nothing but a rock to keep her above water, she must find a way to survive the rising tides and the shark’s unending pursuit.
If I were to define this film, it would be the survival elements of “127 Hours” combined with the horror of “Jaws”. The film does a wonderful job of making the audience care about the outcome of the main character which purely derives from Lively’s solid performance. She is on screen the entire time so it is important to make her an engaging protagonist. Nancy is portrayed as a very competent and intelligent woman who will do whatever is needed to survive. She is not afraid to get in the water to do what has to be done. The shark was done quite well also. Obviously CGI effects were required to bring it to life, but it always seemed like a real threat despite its unrealistic behavior. The CGI was fairly authentic and it seemed like its own character. Although the shark was far larger in size and hungrier for human blood than an actual great white, the film does a perfect job of portraying this as a reality. Each time Nancy was in the water, an intense feeling of uncertainty would take over if the shark was not shown. The film has the clear intention of creating an unsettling environment while evoking genuine suspense, and it does so successfully.
That’s not to say this film is absolutely perfect. Although Jaume Collet-Serra’s overall direction is admirable, the tone of the film can seem inconsistent at times while other emotional elements are not fully touched upon. The first and final acts contain surfing scenes that use upbeat pop music reminiscent of a spring break music video while utilizing unneeded slow motion. It’s understandable that the tone before and after the shark’s encounter would be far more positive, but the execution could have been improved. Because the film clocks in at a short run time of one hour and 26 minutes, Nancy’s emotional depth could not fully be conveyed. There were times when she felt that death was imminent and used a GoPro camera to send final messages to her family in case she didn’t make it alive. These instances were a nice addition to the story, but it would have been great to see more of what she was experiencing for the sake of better fleshing out the survival aspects of the narrative.
This film is exactly what it needs to be. I didn’t leave the theater disappointed and it proves that shark films can be terrifying when done properly. It isn’t a masterpiece, but I was definitely surprised at how enjoyable this film really is. It is rated PG-13, but there were times when the level of blood or violence were pushing the equivalent of an R-rating. If you are a fan of “Jaws”, sharks or seeing a suspenseful film that doesn’t involve demons or ghosts, then I recommend you go and check this one out. “The Shallows” is now playing in theaters everywhere. 3.5/5