When medical student Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) seeks solace on a secluded beach in Mexico following the death of her mother, she is unaware that she’ll soon be fighting for her life against a menacing great white shark with a vicious grudge against humanity.
The Shallows is a tense survival thriller from director Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, Orphan). It’s a short movie, with a running time of only 86 minutes, which means it doesn’t overstay its welcome and delivers moments of shock and suspense throughout. Despite being on her own for most of the movie, Blake Lively is able to carry it with captivating charisma. Her anguish and desolation echoes from the screen to the audience and I found my eyes locked on the screen and my hands gripping the seat with nervous tension during many scenes.
The tension is heightened by the clear bond between Nancy and her family which is established early on in the film. I found myself more invested in her survival because I knew she had family at home who cared about her. Likewise the writers cleverly introduced an animal companion – a seagull with an injured wing whose fate mirrors Nancy’s as they both lie trapped on a rocky outcropping and at the mercy of the rising tide.
The shark itself, teased in the early scenes and eventually revealed in all its horrifying glory, is beautifully crafted CGI and appears very realistic and terrifying. It’s only disappointing that the shark’s behaviour is not as realistic as the CGI as it detracts from a movie that otherwise sells itself on believability and introduces an unintentional element of comedy that erodes the tension.
It probably goes without saying for a movie about a murderous shark, but this movie is not for the squeamish. I watch a lot of horror and I’m not usually too bothered by a bit of blood and guts, but because Collet-Serra was going for realism, I found myself much more affected and actually having to look away in a couple of scenes. Surprisingly, the scene that was designed to be the most shocking in it’s grotesque portrayal was actually the easiest to watch and evoked laughter from the audience, validating that it’s the subtler moments where movie is at it’s most powerful.
It’s in the final moments where the movie fails by not realising this strength. As is common in monster movies, much of the movie suffers from implausibility and requires the viewer to willfully overlook plot holes. Throughout the movie the shark acts more like a robot than an animal. While she was given a backstory to explain her unrelenting rage against humanity, it’s hard to swallow. She seems oblivious to her own pain in her ruthless rampage, never wandering off in boredom or in search of easier prey.
If you like movies where the fun is in the anticipation and you’re happy to ignore implausible animal behaviour in exchange for adrenaline fuelled action then you’ll enjoy this movie. Blake Lively’s dramatic acting really sells the gruelling emotion of her predicament and results in a movie that is full of chilling and exhilarating moments.