THE SHALLOWS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Bloody Images, Intense Sequences of Peril, and brief Strong Language

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Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra

Written by: Anthony Jaswinski

Starring: Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen & Sedona Legge

Shark movies are a dime-a-dozen and most of them aren’t very good. You can thank silly B-flicks and the Syfy Channel for both of those things. I was shocked when I saw the trailer for THE SHALLOWS, because it was the first major shark movie to hit nationwide theatrical release in five years (since 2011’s abysmal SHARK NIGHT). However, it seemed like this flick was going for a more serious, scary approach. As a result, THE SHALLOWS is one of the best shark movies to come out since JAWS (not exactly a huge compliment) and is better than 99% of other shark movies (not a grand statement, when you consider the competition).

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Medical student Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) has gone on a soul-searching trip to Mexico. Mourning a recent death in her family, Nancy has decided to surf at her deceased mother’s favorite secluded beach. What begins as an idealistic day of waves, water and memories quickly turns into a nightmare when Nancy accidentally stumbles into the feeding grounds of a massive great white shark. Losing a lot of blood from a bite on her leg, Nancy makes her way to a tiny island…only to discover that high tide will overtake her rocky salvation within a matter of hours. With a ticking clock and a hungry shark circling her, Nancy will have to use her medical know-how to fix her wound and sheer ingenuity to survive the finned menace that seems intent on turning her into its next meal.

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THE SHALLOWS milks a simple premise for everything that it’s worth in just under 90 minutes. Does this mean that the film is intense for the entire running time? Not really, but it does deliver some great suspense that had me glued to the screen. It’s not simply bikini-clad Blake Lively stuck on a rock for 90 minutes, because there’s also good set-up, cool scenarios, unconventional tools and dangerous escape attempts. Lively keeps this horror-thriller anchored in reality with her convincing performance, even when the story becomes too over-the-top and silly during the final third. Much like her husband’s one-man show in 2010’s achingly tense BURIED, Lively is forced to use a lot of dialogue-free moments and natural delivery of speaking aloud to herself (and a real, not-CGI seagull, named Steven Seagull) that show a surprising range of emotion in her best performance yet.

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Though it sports a PG-13 rating (something that “hardcore” horror fans bash on), THE SHALLOWS brings a surprising amount of gore. Though the body count is relatively low, we do see the shark chowing down on a few folks and the results are appropriately bloody. Director Jaume Collet-Serra knows exactly when to pull the camera away from the feeding frenzy and when to show the shark’s messy leftovers. However, the effects aren’t too impressive when it comes to the shark itself. For the first half, I believed that I was looking at a real shark (the CGI was convincing and a less-is-more approach was taken). As the film continued, we see more of the shark and the places it goes become very silly to say the least. There are eye-rolling moments and the CGI looks ridiculous during the final 10 minutes, especially in close-ups of the hungry shark’s mouth.

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Though it’s far from a perfect or great horror flick, THE SHALLOWS is better than 99% of the shark movies out there (not exactly high praise) and serves as a decent horror flick from a summer movie season that was full of good/decent horror flicks. This sleeper box office hit was far better than it had any right to be, thanks to Blake Lively’s convincing performance and genuinely suspenseful scenes. The movie doesn’t maintain the intensity of those moments (the ending is silly, but also fun in a stupid way), but it’s an entertaining shark movie nonetheless. In an over-populated subgenre filled with Syfy Channel crap, THE SHALOWS deserves a badge of honor.

Grade: B-

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