The Shallows – Film Review
Who thought there’d be a day when I’d championing a Blake Lively project?
Praise be to Jaume Collet-Serra.
TL;DR It’s no House of Wax, Non-Stop, or even Run All Night, but The Shallows is another impressively slick and digestible genre romp from Collet-Serra. The cinematography is way better than this kind of movie deserves, and the pacing never lets up. Don’t go reaching for that Oscar yet, though, Blake. 4 out of 5 stars.
Will she ever escape the Serena monotone?
So the plot is pretty simple: hot, blonde woman is trapped on a temporary island while an obsessive shark tries to kill her. Some movie-obvious dead mum backstory and filler victims threaten to push The Shallows into self-parody territory, but it’s Blake Lively’s committed performance, and some truly breathtaking imagery, that keeps things on the right side of camp. And, in an optimistic resolution, Blake does manage to defeat the killer shark in a suitably gruesome fashion.
Take that, creature who was only trying to protect its feeding ground. Score one for humans! Yeah!
Seriously, though, did anyone expect That Blake Lively Shark Movie to be anything better than trash?
Just like he did with Paris Hilton and House of Wax over a decade ago, Jaume Collet-Serra has polished up the turdier qualities, and delivered an undeniably entertaining genre experience.
These are the kind of movies I wish the director of Sorority Row had gone on to make. Instead of, you know, this abomination. Come on, Stewart Hendler. Did we really need a boy version of Jem and the Holograms?
Why I hate this movie:
I’m still not sold on Blake Lively as an actress. Yes, she fills out that bikini like a fucking goddess. And yes, she delivers on the physicality of the role. But the poor dear just can’t get her line readings to be consistent. You can do more takes, team. It’s a movie.
The one physical element Blake can’t deliver on is the surfing. Which, thankfully, is done by a professional stunt double. And it looks amazing. But what doesn’t look amazing is the surprisingly obvious facial replacement CGI work. I thought this section of the review would be dedicated to bitching about the CGI shark, but that was actually done very well. Which makes the crappiness of the facial CGI more baffling. If they can pull off a shark (and much of the background) that well, why did they half-arse it with the facial replacement? Weird.
The Shallows gets fantastic mileage out of Blake basically shivering on a rock for ages. I expected the movie to be a bit more obnoxiously kinetic, so I was impressed by how restrained it was. Mostly. The third act, as glimpsed in the trailers, has Blake facing off against the shark on a buoy. But, for some utterly absurd reason, Blake has to swim through a sudden field of luminescent jellyfish to get there. Some mention is made of the jellyfishes’ stings hindering the shark, but it’s promptly forgotten about as soon as they disappear. Why include that weirdness at all?
The backstory bullshit with her cancer mum is pretty blah. Did we learn nothing from Gravity?
Oh, and The Shallows, at the end of the day, isn’t very scary. I mean, did you ever really think the shark was gonna get her?
But it’s not all bad:
It may not be very scary, but I think The Shallows is actually a snappy survival drama that’s merely masquerading as a thrill-a-minute horror/thriller. Marketing likely demanded it for the advertising campaign. But despite that misdirect, I am pleasantly surprised with what we got: a fun, coherent movie about a wet, hot chick splayed out on a rock.
What really elevates the movie is the stunning cinematography. This kind of movie could have easily phoned it in on this front and the genre fans wouldn’t have batted an eye, but the filmmakers clearly went out of their way to film some gorgeous visuals. Those Australian coastline locations were a great pick, and the CGI background replacements are seamless. The technicolor ocean clips over the closing credits were a great way to leave the beauty of this movie on your mind. Masterful.
The surf reel is the highlight, though. Yes, that’s Blake Lively’s face awkwardly Photoshopped onto that girl, but damn, faceless girl can surf. I actually got excited whenever the camera would dip below the water’s surface. Because that little patch of reef was just so pretty, especially with a surfboard gliding above it.
The Shallows has a more mature relationship with its gore than I expected, too. We get lots of long, loving shots of Blake’s flopping leg wound. And a bisected man (I do love a good bisection). But then the two dudebros die mostly offscreen. And, in a brave twist, Mr Bisection’s actual attack is hidden behind a Gory Discretion Shot of Blake reacting to it, the camera pulling in on a held shot of her face. It was an excellent choice.
The shark isn’t afforded the same dignity, though. Thank God. After luring it into some spicy coral, coaxing it into jellyfish tentacles, shooting it with a flare gun, and temporarily setting it on fire, Blake finally finishes the thing off by having it swim after her while she dead drops to the ocean floor under the buoy. She wriggles away just in time for the shark to epically impale itself on the mess of jutting metal that is the buoy’s permanent anchor. Such satisfaction.
I was grateful that the movie mostly avoided the “American gets stooged by locals because all foreigners are criminals in horror movies” trope. A very drunk man kind of robs her, but he’s so wasted that he thinks wading into the ocean to steal her surfboard, just after putting her paper money and smartphone in his pants, is a good idea. The two dudebros, the local guide, and the guide’s son are all just good people. It was nice for a change.
Blake is joined for most of the movie by an inured seagull who can’t fly away. I kept anticipating the moment she decided to use it as bait to evade the shark, but she never did. She even mended his wing, and the seagull survives the bloody movie. Blake’s character is a protagonist you can really root for, you know?
She tried to save the man who robbed her, too. And the dudebros. What a boss.
Oh, and Blake Lively is really, really, really ridiculously good looking. Didn’t want to leave that out.
The Shallows is the kind of movie that makes me excited about movies. It’s only ninety minutes; it does everything it needs to for the genre fans; it is full of surprises for the genre-fatigued; it’s stunningly beautiful; and it doesn’t treat its audience like idiots. It’s not the knockout that Non-Stop was, but damn, it was close. Who said the mid-range movie was dead? 4 out of 5 stars.