On a gorgeous beach in Mexico (with magically good reception for a far-flung “secret” beach so our main character can show the people back home what a great time she’s having), Nancy (Blake Lively), a med school drop-out, intends to surf herself out of an existential crisis/personal tragedy. It’s not a bad idea – the waves are great and the crystal clear waters are to die for, almost too literally.
The Shallows has some good things going for it. Stunning scenery and intelligent cinematography that uses wide angles and aerial shots to communicate one, how beautiful the beach is and two, how small and insignificant the main character is, and humanity is in general, when compared with the vast expanse of natural elements like the ocean. The scenes with blood in the water (spoiler: this movie includes a shark) gave a great sense of danger and suspense, but the contrast between the crimson and the cyan blue of the waves was just beautiful. That and the jelly fish scene gave the Shallows something much deeper, a sense of the abstract and captured the juxtaposition between the beauty and danger of nature where the screenwriting, direction and performance couldn’t.
Blake Lively does her best to be a serious actress, and does an alright job for the millennial eye candy that she is. It wasn’t half as bad as watching James Franco carve himself up for two hours in 127 hours, and for that I’m extremely grateful for.
What The Shallows doesn’t do so well at – its really pathetic attempt at an emotional backstory. We’re told really quickly that Nancy’s mom died recently of cancer, and had a special relationship with the secret beach that her daughter is destined to remember. It doesn’t really matter; I wasn’t terribly invested in what happened to her, though I did root for her to tend to her medical injuries adequately and swim fast enough to evade her shark nemesis, but not overly so. The reliance on mobile technology was annoying, and while it makes sense to jazz up sci-fi spectacles like Star Trek and Minority Report with shiny screens to dazzle and scream “We’re from the future”, on an exotic holiday it’s remarkably out of place. Nancy’s video conversations/photo gallery that take up half the screen make for some really lazy screenwriting.
The Shallows did, however, make me want to take a beach holiday and to run as far away from the ocean as humanly possible, tapping into my profound fear of the ocean and love of idyllic islands. It was an exciting and harrowing ride to the end. The Shallows may be one of the better shark movies out there, but then again, considering its company in the genre include classics like Sharknado, Shark Attack 3 and Shark-topus, that’s not really a tall order.
The Shallows swims into cinemas on 11 August. Get your tickets on Popcorn!