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Review: ‘The Shallows’ is a White-Knuckle Thrill Ride

John Allegretti ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

The Shallows is a film that seeks to scare audiences out of the water the way Jaws did with our parents. It’s a tense, no holds barred thriller that serves up plenty of terror in spite of its PG-13 rating. The movie is helmed by veteran genre director Jaume Collet-Serra and anchored by a fantastic performance from Blake Lively as Nancy. Nancy is a surfer and veterinary student who feels cut off from the rest of the world after her mother’s death. Traveling to a beach her mother used to visit, Nancy quickly finds herself fighting for her life when a gigantic great white shark enters the bay. Injured, without water, and stranded on the dead carcass of a whale, Nancy is cut off from the shore. From there the movie takes off and becomes a non-stop marathon of tension.

But before the terror starts, The Shallows treats us to a solid and very reserved first act. The opening surfing scenes are beautiful, with colorful vistas and an orgy of speed ramps that would make Zach Snyder blush. Collet-Serra also does something inventive with cell phones, showing a video conversation blown up next to Lively on the beach. Some will write it off as a gimmick but what Serra does is brilliant filmmaking, combining Lively’s reactions, her father’s coverage, and beautiful wide shots without having to cut away from anything. It’s a genius choice that gives breathing room to both the cinematography and the acting.

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Blake Lively in The Shallows. Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Speaking of acting, Blake Lively turns in a great performance with this movie. After getting stuck on a rock Nancy quickly learns that the only person she can rely on is herself. Most of the film is just her out on the rock, making conversation with a seagull she affectionately dubs ‘Steven’. Being the only human character, Lively is wise never to overdo talking to herself. Lively says just enough to involve the audience, but never too much that her character becomes annoying. There’s a great scene where she has to stitch up her leg, calming down by talking to herself as if she were a doctor.

Many people have been making comparisons to Jaws, but The Shallows plays more like Gravity with a shark. Both films follow a female character who feels isolated after the death of a major family member. The theme of rebirth is also present in both films. The beach Nancy goes to is the same one her mother visited while she was pregnant with her. Nancy also remarks how a group of islands in the distance resemble a pregnant woman. Some people will no doubt brand The Shallows as a rip-off, but it’s no more of a rip-off than the 90s films that built themselves on the Die Hard formula were.

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Blake Lively in The Shallows. Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

For its low $17 million budget, the special effects in The Shallows are seamless. In the age of digital technology showing the shark has never been easier, but the film chooses to obscure its titular monster up until the final act. Collet-Serra uses the famous point-of-view effect from Jaws but also invents some new ones. There’s a great underwater shot where the silhouette of the shark passes over the camera, giving only its size and leaving your brain to fill in the rest. But when the film finally decides to show the shark the effects are so photo-realistic that any misgivings you might have had are put to rest.

If there’s anything about The Shallows that doesn’t quite work, it’s an ending that’s a little rough around the edges. Jaws had the perfect ending to a killer shark film, and the writers of this movie do their best to create something different. It’s a little out of sync with the rest of the movie’s tone, but makes sense and gives a nice feeling of closure. The Shallows isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s a seriously entertaining one that comes pretty damn close.

Overall Grade: B-

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