The Shallows

Whenever you think of a shark movie, your mind automatically goes to Jaws.  Spielberg’s classic works because it treated the shark as a monstrous force of nature.  Something that can creep up on you from the shadowy depths and eat you alive.   It’s simple but amazingly effective.

But these days, movies don’t like simple.  They have to add a new wrinkle to the tried and true “monster” shark.

Let’s make them smart (Deep Blue Sea)!

Let’s put them in a tornado  (The Sharknado movies)!  This one still mystifies me…

And worst of all, movies stopped taking sharks seriously.  Did Jaws do all that could be done with a shark?

So I went into The Shallows with somewhat lowered expectations.

And how was it?

Pretty good actually.

As good as Jaws? 

No…but it’s still a pretty solid thriller.

Essentially the movie is surfer Nancy (Blake Lively) versus the Shark (CGI Shark).  And that simple premise works very well.

This works because the tension building is so well done.  Director Jaume Collet-Serra uses long shots and yes, even slow motion, to good affect.  There are times when the slow motion is unnecessary:  Did we really need to see Blake Lively eat her lunch in slow motion (#food porn)?

The secluded beach where the movie takes place is shot as beautiful one moment to foreboding the next.  Nature can show you amazing vistas and crystal clear oceans, but then it can savage you and leave you bloody.

And there is one moment early in the movie that completely changed the way I watched the rest of the movie.  It’s a small moment, and I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling the movie.  But it makes the movie have a lot more tension than I originally believed.  I may do a spoiler review later because this moment is something that should be used more often in a thriller/monster movie like this.

And this shark truly is a monster.  Yes, it is completely C.G., but it is well done.  The movie takes a page out of Jaws’ book and only shows the shark at the right moments.  It even gives the shark a bit of personality; it’s scarred and has a hook in it’s mouth.  I’m disappointed that this little detail is never truly fleshed out, but I’m forgiving of this because the shark is simply a monstrous force of nature.

Blake Lively is solid as Nancy.  She is no Quint or Hooper, but it’s easy to root for her.  There is a personal tragedy that is a pretty solid motivation Lively does have a really solid scene that is probably one of the better performances I’ve seen from her.  Nancy also has a family that is a little too on the nose.  It’s like the movie is trying to explain the exact tragedy driving Nancy when we really didn’t need that.

And this is where the movie has it’s glaring flaw:  The need to explain everything.  At some points, it feels like Nancy is narrating the action.  Let the images speak for themselves.  The audience can figure it out.

For me this is a failure to embrace the silence of a scene.  The sound in the movie is awesome.  Early in the movie, we see Nancy in the surf with a jubilant soundtrack that abruptly cuts out whenever the camera goes under the waves.  Something is literally creeping up on Nancy and it is so well done.  I wish the movie would use that silence more in its latter stages.

In the end, The Shallows is still a flawed but fun movie.  It’s no Jaws, but it’s great to see a monster shark taken seriously again.