In The Shallows, surfer chick/med school dropout Nancy (Blake Lively) finds herself stranded in the middle of the ocean, targeted by a shark (despite the fact they don’t target humans), as stereotypically drunk Mexicans, limp flares, a rising tide, and inconveniently timed swarms of jellyfish stand in the way of her fight for survival.
Cliches up the wazoo
Originally titled In the Deep, my theory is it was changed to The Shallows, its polar opposite, because some hotshot exec saw The Gallows’ success last year and said, “What audiences clearly responded to was the ‘_allows’ sound in the title.” The water in the #Film is actually quite deep, so the only way in which The Shallows is an appropriate title is if it refers to the depth of plot and character development. Nancy’s emotional drive put in to make us root for her (although we would anyway because Lively’s a likeable chick) is a bunch of trite cliches. Her life has loose ends, she decided to take some time off, four years into medical school (because yeah, people totally do that), so if the shark kills her, she’ll never get to finish her training and become a doctor. Her dad punctuates everything with “It’s what your mother would’ve wanted,” because (and this is the oldest cliche in the book) Nancy’s mother died of cancer and passed down a necklace she now touches to show us she’s thinking of her dead mother who taught her to be free and love life and was also a surfer who went to this mysterious beach and now Nancy’s found the beach and it’s where she’ll battle a shark and emerge with a new lease on life. I mean, it doesn’t take a Hemingway or a Fitzgerald to write this stuff.
You can’t really blame them. There’s not an awful lot you can do with a premise this thin. Take Jaws for instance, which has a richer premise. (Of course Jaws comes up if we’re talking about a shark movie.) In Jaws, the shark terrorises a whole town and three very different men come together to bring it down, providing ample opportunity for story twists and character relationships, but in The Shallows, the shark terrorises one woman and one woman comes together to bring it down. Nancy’s only development is a series of regrets: rolling her eyes at her dad, flunking out of med school, not letting her sister surf (somehow this shark ordeal made her think, “You know what, I should let her go in the ocean, the ocean’s great”).
It’s enough for the audience to want Nancy to survive because she’s a nice chick and we don’t want a ravenous predator to tear her limb from limb. All the other stuff is pointless and gets in the way of more shark action. As for The Shallows’ plot development, I’ll try not to spoil it for anyone who still thinks it’s worth watching, but it’s basically the shark circling Nancy and that’s it.
Appears to be directed by a schizo YouTuber
Jaume Collet-Serra’s direction is ham-fisted, with surfing scenes akin to dubstep-soaked YouTube mashups and shark scenes like The Little Mermaid. You’ll jump every time the shark eats someone, but it’s so unrealistic it’s distracting. #Sharks hate eating humans and don’t hold grudges. If they get a nip of human and realise “Ew, this is a human, I hate humans,” they leave them alone. Once this shark has a bite of Nancy, it stalks her for days. It makes no sense, and it detracts from the sense of dread you’re supposed to feel because you know it’d never happen. We should worry Nancy won’t make it out, but all her problem-solving is cartoonish and unrealistic, like you’re watching a Roadrunner cartoon starring Accelleratti Incredi-Blake and Carnivorous Vulgari-shark, you rarely feel any danger.
So, all in all, The Shallows is bad. There are occasional scary moments, but overall it’s too unrealistic to get you truly terrified the way you do watching something plausible like Saw. But Lively’s performance is strong, and despite needless backstory, you root for her. And there’s a nice pun with Nancy naming her avian companion “Steven Seagull.”
The Shallows is out now. #Review