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The Shallows

A taut, trashy action flick starring Blake Lively and a very hungry fish.
By Sarah Ward
August 19, 2016
By Sarah Ward
August 19, 2016

Just when you thought it was safe to watch another film set by the sea, The Shallows takes cinema audiences back into shark-infested waters. More than four decades after Jaws scared viewers away from the shoreline, this Gold Coast-shot American thriller endeavours to do the same. But whereas Steven Spielberg really fleshed out the idea of a menacing creature stalking a small beach town, this new effort, from Non-Stop, Unknown and Run All Night director Jaume Collet-Serra, keeps things much more simple.

Blake Lively's holidaying Nancy is first left to fend for herself after a friend opts to skip their planned trip to a secluded spot on the Mexican coast. Giving the jaunt a miss isn't an option for Nancy — not just because the Texan medical student is a keen surfer intent on catching some waves, but because the specific locale has links to her recently deceased mother. When she arrives, two unnamed guys are happily hanging ten. Alas, when they leave, she's joined by a more fearsome, blood-thirsty form of company.

If it all sounds like a rather flimsy excuse for another lone survivor film in the same vein as All is Lost and Life of Pi, that's because it is. Collet-Serra simply takes what's fast becoming a familiar genre and adds a shark — and some GoPro-shot footage — to the mix. In a move inspired by Cast Away, Nancy is at one point gifted a seagull named Steven to talk to. But for the bulk of the movie she's just trembling on a rock, narrating events to herself and yelling at the lurking great white beast.

Of course, as something as silly as the Sharknado series continues to prove, there are always thrills to be found in the notion of humanity versus nature — and ample cheesiness, too. The Shallows succeeds in ramping up the tension surrounding every urgently paced, frenetically edited attack, particularly given how sparse the storyline is. It doesn't fare as well in other departments though — from the obvious dialogue and thin existential musings cooked up by screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski, to the tendency of the camera to linger leeringly over Lively's bikini-clad body.

Thankfully, Lively still ranks among the film's best elements in what is basically a one-woman effort. Whether she's screaming for her life or performing gruesome surgery on herself, there's a primal element to her performance that invests her protagonist with the right balance of vulnerability and determination. Indeed, while Collet-Serra has become best known for showcasing Liam Neeson being Liam Neeson, he also knows how to turn Lively into a formidable but relatable force. If you've seen any of his previous films, you should know what to expect here: a taut, trashy action flick that doesn't stray far from its concept.

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