There’s not much anyone can do with shark movies anymore, especially after all that Sharknado excitement. When the landmark film in the sub-genre was released over forty years ago (followed by dozens of trashy spin-offs), it is easy to shrug off anything that involves sharks and even easier to just go back to the classic created by Spielberg. Yet here we are in 2016 and we have another shark film…but much to my surprise, The Shallows proves to be a solid, grounded film even if it verges into a bit of ridiculousness in its third act.
Clocking in at 86 minutes, director Jaume Collet-Serra and writer Anthony Jaswinski make the most out of their time. Nancy (Blake Lively), a med school student, has tracked down the secluded, unnamed beach her deceased mother went to in her youth prior to Nancy’s birth. There’s some lingering issues between her and her father, which aren’t exactly resolved, making them feel a little unnecessary.
No, Nancy has a much bigger to contend with: a ravenous great white shark that has far more determination than any actual shark would. After getting her leg bit by the shark, Nancy finds herself on a tiny little outcropping of rocks that only appear during low-tide, so things aren’t looking too hot for her as the water is slowly creeping back in.
Thankfully, Nancy is a resilient character, not just a girl in a bikini. In what could have easily been a film about a girl who boxes herself into a corner by making poor decisions, she actually has solid set of skills to help her contend with Sharky. Using her jewelry as a means of stitching her wounds and creating a makeshift bandage and cover out of her swimsuit, Nancy transcends the stereotypes and becomes a fully competent survivor ready to fight for her life. Lively, who many might write off as either a) that chick from Gossip Girl, or b) Ryan Reynold’s wife, comes into her own here, giving a stellar performance without having hardly anyone to act off of. This is primarily her show and she nails it.
The first two acts are strongly constructed. A slow burn, the film progresses a solid, painstaking pace as Nancy struggles to maintain composure and figure out a plan for escape. Once she has that plan, though, the movie gets a shot of nitrous and shifts into a high-octane, CGI-heavy swim to save her life. When the CGI is used sparingly, it’s immensely effective, but in this final act it looks just about as fake as Jaws did four decades ago.
Is The Shallows the next Jaws? Hardly, nor will any movie ever surpass what Jaws did. But for what it is, The Shallows is a solid, suspenseful little film that gives you that sinking feeling every time a foot or hand drops just below the surface. Despite dropping the ball in the third act, especially with an unnecessary epilogue, The Shallows will once again make you wonder what exactly is swimming underneath you.