The Shallows (2016)

  • Time: 87 min
  • Genre: Drama | Horror | Thriller
  • Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
  • Cast: Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Sedona Legge


In the taut thriller The Shallows, when Nancy (Blake Lively) is surfing on a secluded beach, she finds herself on the feeding ground of a great white shark. Though she is stranded only 200 yards from shore, survival proves to be the ultimate test of wills, requiring all of Nancy’s ingenuity, resourcefulness, and fortitude.


  • Jaume Collet-Serra is a capable director when it comes to keeping an audience involved and beguiled. I enjoyed two of his movies starring badass muse, Liam Neeson (Run All Night and 2014’s Non-Stop). Now using lots of close-ups and plenty of slow motion shots, he wistfully reboots Jaws for the umpteenth time. Jaume sprinkles upon us, a little bit of Spielberg’s monster hit, a little bit of Cast Away, a little bit of Open Water (2003), and a little bit of “The Raft” segment from 1987’s Creepshow 2. The result is The Shallows, a conventional yet predictable flick that’s stronger than most Peter Benchley sequels and a hundred times better than the critically panned Shark Night (I would hope so).

    With a spike in real-life great white attacks being posted all over social media these days, “Shallows” comes off as sort of relevant if not psychic. All I gotta say is dun dun, dun dun, dun dun dun dun dun dun (ha-ha).

    Filmed in Australia (which stands in as Mexico), distributed by Columbia Pictures, and clocking in at a paltry running time of 87 minutes, The Shallows is very small scale. With only 4 actors/actresses plus Sully the Seagull, it relegates as a one-woman show. The cinematography by Flavio Marinez Lebiano (he shot 2011’s Unknown) is bright and gleaming despite the film’s first act which feels like fodder for the tired, MTV generation. And of course there’s nods to 1975’s Jaws (as mentioned earlier). You have lead Blake Lively pointing a gun at a big ass shark saying, “f*ck you” (Roy Scheider says, “smile you son of a bitch”) plus an obligatory cage match reminiscent of what Richard Dreyfuss went through 40+ years ago.

    In jest, “Shallows” isn’t epic, won’t blow your mind, and won’t reinvent the “don’t go into the water” wheel. It will however, somewhat channel your faith in the survival of the human spirit. The simple concept is there for the taking: One surfer girl, one monstrous “sea dog”, mano a mano, and only 200 yards from shore. Heck, I’d pony up 5-10 dollars to see this thing at the local cineplex. Wait, I already did.

    Anyway, the story is as follows: Texas-born Nancy (played by Lively) is a medical student who loves to get on her board and carve up some bodacious waves. In the wake of her mother’s death, she decides to go to a secluded beach where her mom once surfed after finding out she was pregnant with Nancy. Nance gets a ride to said beach from a local named Carlos (Oscar Jaenada). When she asks him what the name of the place is, he simply says it’s “paradise”. Nancy then runs into two other locals, surfs a few ripples with them, and after taking a breather, decides to go out for one more ride. Big Mistake. A great white shark is lurking in the water and it intends on attacking and killing Nancy if she doesn’t get to land first. Serra films some excellent, initial surfing sequences whether it be the stunt people doing some tube riding or just barreling down the point break. And as for the ocean water featured in The Shallows, well it’s beautiful in its midnight blue state and boy is it darn clear.

    Now performance-wise, I think Blake Lively does a decent job in “Shallows”. Her Nancy gets put through the wringer whether it be her tearing some flesh on corral, getting stung by a jellyfish, or initially getting wounded by the shark thus spurring the notion of gangrene setting in. Nancy is obviously a goodhearted person and Lively channels the character well. Her virtuous voice and wholesome looks are a plus not to mention her ability to naturally convey fear, hope, and pain. Now do I think Lively can carry a movie all by herself? Yes, but only if it doesn’t surpass an hour and a half.

    As for Jaume Collet-Serra’s streamlined direction, well he keeps things moving despite a slight level of implausibility. For instance, Nancy stands on a small rock to try and avoid getting eaten by the shark. Huh? You’d think said shark would be able to just easily rise up and snatch her. On the other end of the spectrum, Serra effectively implores tactics to help Lively’s persona fend for her life. You have the use of her necklaces and earrings to repair a wound, the timing of her stop watch to see how fast the menacing shark swims from point a to point b, and documentation on a helmet camera so that someone can call for help and save the stranded Nancy.

    In truth, the only thing I wish Jaume would stop doing in his films, is to use visible texts, visible skypes, and visible emojis as plot devices in order to tell his story. It all seems tired by now and rather cliched. Oh and did I mention his ending to “Shallows” (spoiler)? Well it’s all pretty unjust in scope. You’re telling me that a giant shark is gonna bite the dust after running into a couple of steel rods. Ten minutes earlier, that same shark was lit on fire and still galloped ferociously towards Lively’s Nancy. Like I said unjust.

    Overall, The Shallows is passable entertainment that you’ll probably forget about the minute the end credits roll. No matter. After seeing the disaster (ha-ha) that was Independence Day: Resurgence, I sort of needed this change of scenery. Rating: A “waving” 2 and a half stars.

    Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars

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  • Her name is Nancy and here is what we know. She’s from Galveston, Texas. She’s dropped out of med school, frustrated over not being able to do anything to prevent the death of her cancer-stricken mother. She has a little sister. She has a father who urges her not to quit, to keep fighting. She’s in Mexico on her mother’s favourite beach – partly as pilgrimage, partly to recalibrate and reconsider. She has a cellphone which she’s left on the beach along with some clothes and her backpack. She’s in the water, on her surfboard, not too far from shore. She meets two local surfers, they bond over the waves. Hours later, they bid her farewell. She stays behind to catch one last wave.

    Something’s not quite right. She looks around. Moments later, two dolphins leap out of the water. Delighted, she follows them only to be led to a whale carcass being encircled by a flock of seagulls. Then a wave approaches. She catches it, and a shark catches her board. She’s pulled down into the water, her body bumping against the rocks, trickles of blood trailing her blonde tresses. She screams and suddenly she’s in a cloud of her own blood. She scrambles atop the whale carcass and, when the shark circles back, leaps off and makes her way to a nearby rock.

    And there she is. With a nasty gash on her leg. On a rock. 200 yards from shore. There’s a buoy nearby, it might be a touch too far. The shark is still in the water. And the high tide is approaching.

    The Shallows starring Blake Lively as the blonde in peril is written by Anthony Jaswinski and directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. It’s a B-movie par excellence. Collet-Serra doesn’t skimp on the cheap thrills – Lively strips down to her bikini after tearing off her wetsuit to use as a tourniquet; three men become appetizers for the shark who is intent on having Nancy for its main course – but he also displays a surprising amount of restraint. That may stem from budgetary constraints (the film was made for a relatively paltry $17 million), but it nonetheless results in many effectively staged sequences. One of the shark’s victims, a local drunk – who steals Nancy’s belongings instead of helping her – wades out to retrieve her surfboard despite her warning screams. Collet-Serra holds the camera on Lively’s face, anguished and conveying everything we need to know about the man’s fate, before cutting to the man crawling onto the shore, the lower half of him gone. A scene in which Nancy swims through a field of glowing jellyfish to slow down the shark is surreal in its loveliness.

    Much of the film is focused on Nancy’s time on that rock as she tries to figure out how to survive. Jaswinski provides some levity in the form of a wounded seagull, whose presence and reaction shots are utterly delightful. One could take the seagull as Nancy’s mother watching over her and there are several touches that would bolster that view, but the filmmakers wisely don’t hammer home the point too strongly. Instead, Collet-Serra and cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano offer stunning visuals and a variety of angles to imprint the geography and to highlight the immediate danger faced by our heroine. The finale is pulse-pounding as Nancy fends off the great white, attempting to protect herself within the ever more narrow confines of the metal buoy. Lively throws herself into the role, and it’s no small credit on her part that she manages to anchor the film, exude both grit and vulnerability, and maintain her dignity under the camera’s scrutiny.

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  • “I’m not totally alone. I’ve got this little dude, Steven Seagull, here keeping me company.”

    When you succeed in attracting more attention as a puny little seagull than a large over-sized shark, you deserve an honorable mention at any reputable film festival. Never before was I charmed by poultry. A confident, wounded animal and certainly pleasant company. Not even one silly word came out of his beak. A fellow victim in the same life-threatening situation. Steven Seagull was an ingenious contribution to the movie. That way Nancy (Blake Lively) wasn’t compelled to talk to herself a large portion of the movie. Because, believe me, a cozy chat with the bloodthirsty shark that swam circles around her, wasn’t part of her schedule.

    And so we arrive at the following participant out of the world of fauna. The six-meter long psychotic shark who wasn’t satisfied with just the rotting carcass of a whale. Apparently this carnivore doesn’t like to be disturbed while eating. The comparison with the famous shark “Jaws” is inevitable. Anatomically it’s probably all very accurate. Only in “The shallows” this predator is completely computer generated, while the Jaws model was a mechanical and electronic model. Not that sharky in this film seemed fake or anatomical wrong. But in “Jaws” you got the impression that it was a lifelike trained shark. When I was a youngster, I won a plastic shark at the fair. He had gaping jaws and looked quite menacing to me. Until you shoved him to the ground and his gaping mouth was double folded. This plastic monster looked much less threatening when doing that. Rather laughable. Wait for the denouement in “The Shallows” and you’ll understand what I mean.

    Between all this fauna there’s a female human being in a tiny bikini. Nancy is a ravishing appearance who needs a moment of reflection in her life after the death of her mother. Nothing is more fun than to travel to a Mexican bay where her mother used to go once. Blake Lively was unknown to me, but after seeing her trained body and perfect-looking female parts, I’m planning to watch the other movies she participated in. I’ll be honest. Lively lying on her surfboard with a camera strategically focusing on her tightly shaped buttocks, was a breathtaking sight. Kudos to Collet-Sera to make this film in such a way that my attention was diverted from these bodily temptations, even though she was wearing a bikini the whole movie. All praise for Lively as well, because she plays almost the entire movie cavalier seul. Not a simple task and she does it with gusto. And this thanks to the excellent cooperation of Steven Seagull.

    In terms of story, it actually wasn’t that big of a deal. Exotic blonde visits a beautiful beach and surfs in azure blue water. According to a shark, she looks like a snack. And she ends up on a piece of rock situated too far from the beach and a buoy. Her task is to get to safety, while the highly intelligent shark is patrolling nearby. Not very original. What remains are the beautiful images. Both the slow motion footage of the waves, as the underwater clips, look sublime. Perfect images that would fit in a “Bounty” commercial. And then there’s the steadily increasing tension. It’s waiting for the shark to show up, the fatal attack and whether Blake Lively will manage to stay alive (again an appropriate name) and escape. All in all a lot of positive things in this film (except the totally whacked ending) with a simple story. Yet Steven Seagull remains the brilliant highlight of “The Shallows”.

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