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The Shallows

Coming Soon

For some reason shark movies just don’t seem to cut it in the modern day movie world. Audiences are fixated on entertainment of a less-than-plausible nature these days; superheroes, superhumans, mutants, aliens, talking animals. You get the idea. Lost in this haze of fictional what-ifs are the more grounded, more relatable themed movies that sometimes get looked over. Practical horror can be just as stimulating and enjoyable as a high budget action flick about boys with cool toys wanting to show who has the biggest codpiece. June has already proved that once with The Conjuring 2. Getting back to the shark thing now; aside from the laughable, campy made-for-TV Sharknado franchise, there have not been many attempts to resurrect the bone chilling terror felt by so many from the movie that put sharks on the map, Jaws (1975). Yes we’ve had a few passable films since then; Jaws 2 (1978), Deep Blue Sea (1999) and Open Water (2003). Can The Shallows bring the bite back to a long ignored genre? Let’s dive in and find out.
An American surfer, Nancy (Blake Lively), is looking get away from her normal life as a nursing student at Baylor and reconnect with the fond memories of her mother, who recently passed away from cancer. There was an old picture of a hidden cove that her mother visited during her youth and Nancy has been in search of this mysterious place without a name for quite some time now. With a little luck and perseverance, Nancy finds this place wants to make the best of it. Her mother was an avid surfer which is a bond the family shared so, of course, Nancy has brought along her surf board so that she too can catch some waves in this spectacular tranquil setting. The old saying that curiosity killed the cat is well suited for this situation as Nancy comes face to face with one of nature’s most terrifying creatures, a great white shark. Occasionally the best of intentions can leave you in the worst of places. For Nancy, this may very well be her final resting place.
The Shallows isn’t heavy on actors. In fact, there are less than ten in the entire movie. That means the focus of this movie, as well as its potential success or failure, lies heavily on a handful of things; Blake Lively’s performance, the strength of the story itself and finally the special effects used to bring the terrifying creature of the deep front and center as the animal antagonist. Stepping back to realize that Blake Lively is acting often times NOT in perilous situations brings a sense of great appreciation. The things her character Nancy endures throughout feels real enough to get emotionally pulled into. The plot is just interesting enough to keep viewers invested as to what’s transpiring on the screen. Campiness is kept to a minimum allowing a the serious undertone to rise to the top. Nancy’s character is one that many will be able to relate which should create greater empathy. Finally we reach the eye candy portion aka special effects. It’s a necessary evil given the fact that humans are coming nose to nose with a deadly shark. Going with more of a less is more kind of an approach, most of the effects work as intended. Having said that, when it comes to Lively actually hanging ten on a surfboard, ummmmm not so much. A few instances that featured closeups of her riding high on the waves looked like a bad version of Snapchat’s “Face Swap” feature. These stumbles don’t ruin the overall experience but they are unfortunate just the same.
Honestly though, one of the most delightful surprises about The Shallows was the unexpected fondness I had towards a seagull that is basically in the wrong place at the wrong time. Since watching the movie and doing a little internet research, I have found that I am not the only one swooning for this seagull. He (yep it’s a he) even has his name in the credits, Sully “Steven” Seagull. Kudos to you feathery friend. Upon seeing the movie you’ll better understand how this could even happen. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan (2009), Non-Stop (2014), Run All Night (2015)) does a really nice job of making the 87 minute runtime feel neither rushed nor forced. There’s only so much that can happen in this particular situation before audiences become restless in their seats and Collet-Serra seemed cognizant of that fact from beginning to end.
I don’t think Jaws has anything to worry about in being the most heralded shark movie of all time HOWEVER The Shallows holds its own. There are enough thrills and chills to keep audiences on the edges of their seats while rooting for a favorable outcome. Expect both the expected as well as the unexpected but most importantly, remember that you’re watching a movie that is meant to entertain and not serve as a documentary on surviving shark attacks. Having said that, there might be a lesson or two to be learned. Personally, I won’t have to worry about it because I will never be testing those waters. Hot tubs and swimming pools for this critic. You can see The Shallows in theaters now.

The Shallows is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Carl Wheeler

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