Cinematic Releases: The Shallows - Reviewed

Andrew reviews the shark attack thriller The Shallows.

Damn! That be cold!
When we last saw Jaume Collet-Serra, he directed his third collaboration with Liam Neeson in the genre thriller Run All Night.  With his new shark attack survival thriller The Shallows starring Blake Lively as a go getting surfer who finds herself fighting for survival against a Great White, the director seems to be returning to his studio horror film roots which began with the House of Wax remake before making the creepy child cult thriller Orphan.  It's a simplistic yarn that's equal parts Open Water and Blue Crush, with our Jaws fears of going back into the water beset by a human versus natural beast white knuckle suspense thriller ala The Edge.  In the scheme of things, the PG-13 rated The Shallows doesn't try to break new ground before being filed away in the sharks movie subsection like so many others that have come before it and will likely follow after.  If from the outset this looks and sounds more than a little cliched to you, your premonitions are correct.  That said I admit it has been a while since I've seen a one actor show depicting a figurative fish out of water fighting to survive against insurmountable odds, somewhat like Robert Zemeckis' Cast Away minus Tom Hanks and with sharks.  While this doesn't use real sharks in the manner the blurry DV shot Open Water did, what it lacks in real water predators it makes up for with a fierce heroine who doesn't simply float in the water waiting to be eaten. 

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As I said before, there's an awful lot of CGI in this which recalled Deep Blue Sea and it's hokey looking carnivorous Selachii rushing towards the camera with noticeable motion blurring.  Even more distracting than the CG rendered shark which looks realistic in one shot and cartoonish in the next are moments early in the picture where Blake Lively's text messages on her cellular phone appear onscreen as a 3D text bubble, sort of like Fifty Shades of Grey if it appeared floating in space either outside her car, next to her or conveniently moving out of Lively's way as she walks along the beach.  It's a weird, distracting and unnecessary effect which could have just as easily worked with voiceovers or even an element of mystery but as it stands it took me out of the film everytime it appeared throughout the first act.  In a film that seems to strive for realistic survival thrills, why do we see scenes like Lively walking in between two text boxes?  When she rifles through photographs on her phone, a phone sized bubble pops out of thin air and fills half the screen.  If you can ignore these phony looking distractions this is otherwise a fairly plausible and often scenic looking thriller where I honestly wondered whether or not our heroine was going to survive this ordeal.  At times it's genuinely scary such as a moment when she climbs aboard a scarred whale carcass to avoid being eaten and in other times it's an endurance test with some cringeworthy moments of Lively stitching a wound. 

Come here sharky shark!
 I just want to pet you. 
I think most people going into The Shallows know more or less what kind of suspense thriller they're in for.  Despite being yet another shark movie in a beyond oversaturated market of shark movies, The Shallows is the kind of halfway decent thriller chiller hackwork that will hold your attention for two hours before moving onto something else.  If I had to sum up The Shallows in a word or two, I think 'average' would be most applicable.  Lively's good in it and there's some uniquely frightening use of the GoPro camera to show a surfer's point of view as he gets pulled underwater before being eaten, but I'd be lying if I said I never saw anything like this before.  An elongated soliloquy into the camera from Lively is about as much human drama as you're going to get from this generic shark attack thriller.  The rest of it is a by the numbers chase, duck and cover movie including one sequence where she tries to evade the unrelenting hunter by swimming through jellyfish that could have easily been lifted from Finding Nemo...they're that cartoonish looking.  I guess if you can bite your lip and overlook the CGI and cell phone bubbles, you'll enjoy The Shallows for the B movie that it is.  Just don't expect anything remotely new from this.


- Andrew Kotwicki