The Shallows (12A) | Close-Up Film Review


Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra, US, 2016, 86 mins

Cast: Blake Lively

On arriving at a secret beach she was told about by her late mother, stressed-out medical student Nancy (Blake Lively) finally feels like she can catch some waves, bask in the sun, and chill out – despite the worries of her family about where she is.

Two local guys give her advice about the best places to surf, and soon enough she’s blissfully happy – for a while at least, until she seems something large a bit further out in the deep blue. Curious, she finds that it’s the wrecked carcass of a whale – and that there are already guests at the mammalian table.

Making for the shore, she gets bumped by a shark and is flailing in the water when she feels a tug on her leg, and there’s a bloom of blood around her. She (just) makes it to a small rock island nearby, with an also-injured seagull flapping up onto the outcrop alongside her. Now all she can do is watch as the other surfer dudes drive away – and then wonder what will happen when the tide comes in…

Time ticks by, the next day comes, and the guys return for another day surfing – only this time Nancy’s yelling at them not to get into the water; she’s seen a drunken beach bum who rifled her bag and then tried to retrieve her board pay the price, and if these two don’t see her and get help, she might not ever be found.

Alas, the two guys are soon chums in more than one way, and now Nancy (and her winged friend she calls “Steven”) are truly alone. The sun’s beating, Nancy’s wounds are suppurating, and so she risks getting one of the guys’ battered GoPro in order to record her last message home.

But is she going to just wait to die, or make one last desperate swim for the red buoy that’s tantalizingly close – but of course means she has to swim through the danger zone to get there….

One of the most instantly-accessible types of horror pics – the shark genre has even made it into parody with Sharknado and many other SyFy channel-style hybrids – this is a film you’ll either immediately want to see, or (possibly because a shark attack, rare as they are, is one of your nightmares) will avoid at all costs.

It helps of course that there’s eye candy in the shape of Ms. Lively, but here she utterly holds her own in what’s essentially a solo effort, using her brains more than her brawn in an attempt to try and survive – and then outrun – something that sees her as a small snack.

There’s some bloody, wince-inducing moments and inevitable comparisons to the daddy of all shark movies, Jaws, (the end sequence at one point absolutely brings back memories of the battle on the Orca) – but at a brisk 86 minutes it never stops being entertaining, follows the crucial rule of holding back on showing the toothy villain too much, makes the location look like paradise, and doesn’t offer too many cheesy cop-outs or laughably unlikely beats.

More than that, it showcases the acting talents of what is clearly the best-trained seagull in the history of film-making. Seemingly not a CGI or animatronic beast, Steven the Seagull is a welcome friend for Nancy – a beaked “Wilson” if you like – and you almost hope he gets away more than she does….

As for box office, it made the budget back on opening weekend in the USA alone, so I think we can safely expect another trip out there….


Review by James Bartlett