The Shallows review – a sharktastic and thrilling creature feature

by | 12 Aug 2016 | Film Reviews

‘Stranded on a rock a short distance from shore Nancy must outwit a Great White Shark to reach safety.’

Ever since Steven Spielberg made us think twice about going into the ocean with his classic monster movie Jaws (1975), there have been numerous attempts to imitate and recreate the 1975 blockbuster, that also went and ruined the reputation of sharks for years. It has been the template for which all other shark films have been measured and although, in my opinion, nothing has surpassed it, that’s not to say there have been some close contenders.

The Shallows is certainly one of those films, and like Jaws, will definitely cause a hesitance in stepping into the open sea. It’s also the sort of film that could have so easily fallen flat on its face, as it rests on the performance of one actress and has very little in plot. It’s basically a very tight and stripped down survival flick that can feel rather by-the-numbers at times and formulaic, but is so well made that it’s able to rise above those over familiar troupes and does an excellent job of giving us a tense and suspenseful film that will have you biting your nails throughout its slim eighty five minute runtime.

The story is simple enough: Blake Lively plays medical student Nancy who, after losing her mother to cancer, is looking for some solace and a place to surf at a private beach in Mexico. Unfortunately, a great white shark has also made the beach his home and attacks Nancy leaving her stranded and alone on a rock 200 meters away from shore.

What follows is a battle for survival as Nancy must not only evade the shark, but must also combat the elements like hyperthermia, dehydration and the scorching sun. it’s minimalist film making at its best as director Jaume Collet-Serra works with very little, and probably the bulk of the budget going to creating the shark, which is actually portrayed rather well using decent CGI.

What also helps is, that like Spielberg, he shows the antagonist sparingly, not over relying on it so as to loose it’s effect at terrifying. He also spends the first act building up to the action. Where some film makers might be tempted to jump straight into the mayhem, Collet-Serra is in no rush and is not afraid to take his time. This really helps create a rising tension where with every lingering underwater shot or overhead view will have you scanning for that ominous shadow.

When the action does begin, it is still between moments where nothing seems to be happening, but it is those times that Collet-Serra uses to maintain that tension and keeping the audience unnerved so when something does go down it is more effective in rattling the senses. This is why the shark film is such a popular sub-genre within the creature feature genre.

The ocean is completely out of our element where we have limited control and our vision is blurred and distorted. The thought that something could be stalking us and we’d have no idea is utterly petrifying. It taps into a primal fear so that any good film maker shouldn’t have to show that much and can do a lot with next to nothing.

Collet-Serra, additionally, makes great use of the location. Filmed in New South Wales, Australia as the secluded Mexican beach, it’s a beautiful setting and a great way to isolate Nancy. The cinematography depicting the surfing at the beginning is also well done and is an ironic contrast when compared to the horrors that are about to be experienced. Combined with a terrific score it all adds to that suspenseful atmosphere, and building that unease that will have you on the edge of your seat.

All this though would mean very little without a great performance to draw in the audience’s sympathy. The Shallows rests entirely on one performance and Lively certainly brings her A-game to the table. She plays Nancy believably and relatable, and even with the most clichéd of backstories and minimal characterisation we’re still able to care what happens to her and really root for her.

She really makes you feel for Nancy every step of the way through this film that you inwardly cheer at every triumph or gasp at every close call. Without Lively’s performance this film would not be as good as it is and the atmosphere and suspense would be to no avail if she couldn’t make us care for this character.

Collet-Serra proves adept with the action set pieces and there are few standout scenes that will have you yelling at the screen and jumping out of your seats. The shark probably isn’t the most realistic portrayal of these underwater beasts as he seems to really have it in for Nancy with a serious chip on his shoulder, and can tip just over the edge of ridiculous in that final act, but it makes for a great antagonist.

Also, as mentioned, the director isn’t afraid to not overshow his hand till the end. Even in this day and age where we can pretty much put anything onscreen he shows just the right amount of restraint allowing our imaginations to do the rest.

‘The Shallows is not just a great monster movie, but is a great survival film as well.’

With a character we can really get behind and excellent direction it is certainly one of the few great creature feature’s that’s out there at the moment. It does what these sort of films set out to do: to entertain and scare us, although it’s probably set human/shark relations back another forty years.

David Axcell

Film Critic

David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.

This article is copyright owned by Keltar Limited. All rights reserved.

Plagiarism or unauthorised copying is not permitted.

All other copyrights remain the property of their respective owners.