PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

Over forty years on from the phenomenon of Jaws, the movie which, for better or worse, created the concept of the summer blockbuster, and the public have clearly not lost their appetite for stories of hapless swimmers and surfers terrorised by predatory, fearsomely-finned sharks. Even dumb-headed franchises like Shark Attack and, more recently, Sharknado haven’t been able to dampen our enthusiasm for the very particular terror inspired by these swift, silent, savage denizens of the deep. And don’t even get us started on the recently-released straight-to-DVD title Shark Exorcist

Fortunately, Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows is in a different league to many of its shabby, exploitative forebears and goes a long way towards restoring the reputation of the shark movie; it’s easily the best film of its type since Spielberg persuaded us that deckchairs were the better option as we turned a wary eye seaward in the summer of ’75. With the silly season tent-pole movies now routinely clocking in at well over two hours, The Shallows is over and done with in under ninety minutes and it’s all the better for its brevity and succinctness. This is a movie with a simple, yet tense, story to tell, and it wastes no time in just getting on and telling it. Medical student Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) travels to Mexico and tracks down the secluded beach favoured by her recently-deceased mother. Alone apart from a couple of surfer dudes, Nancy takes to her board and surfs the waves for a while. She spots a decaying whale carcass drifting in the water and, as she investigates the husk, she’s knocked off her surfboard by a great white shark. The creature takes a chunk out of her leg and she finds herself, bleeding and terrified, stranded on a tiny outcrop of reef which will become submerged when the tide turns. The surfers have packed up and gone home and Nancy is alone, the shoreline tantalisingly close and yet dangerously far away. The great white is still circling and waiting for its moment…

The Shallows is an affecting thrill-ride because its set-up is so simple and so dramatic; there’s no elaborate world-building or complex character motivations here – this is the story of one young woman who finds herself, through no real fault of her own (although we might have been tempted to give the rotting whale a miss) in an appalling and potentially fatal situation. The film is suffused with a palpable sense of “how the Hell is she going to get out of this?” – you might be reminded of Adam Green’s 2010 thriller Frozen (not the Disney singalong) in which a bunch of hapless teens find themselves trapped on a ski-lift at dead of night with hungry wolves circling below. Nancy, bleeding, bruised and with her strength ebbing away as gangrene threatens to set in, has to use all her wiles and her ingenuity to keep her aquatic attacker at bay, eventually striking out from the disappearing reef and heading for what should be the safer sanctuary of a nearby navigational buoy. But her situation suddenly goes from bad to much, much worse…

The Shallows is effectively a one-hander and Blake Lively (she’s Deadpool’s missus) handles the heavy lifting required to make us care about Nancy and believe in her plight with effortless aplomb. In many ways it’s the age-old story of man vs. nature, a helpless human being facing off against the wrath and power of one of the world’s most formidable killing machines. It’s a story as old as time and it’s certainly one cinema hasn’t shied away from in recent years. But The Shallows, with its lean, economic script and brisk direction, is a taut and edgy experience and a welcome respite from the noise and clamour of summer blockbuster season.  It seems it’s still not safe to go back into the water…


Expected Rating: 6 out of 10

Actual Rating:

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