3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)
I walked into The Shallows thinking it would be a borderline exploitative examination of star Blake Lively in a beautiful bikini, that just so happened to involve a shark. To my astonishment, the film provided a strong female character, gritty realism, and a career-best performance from Ms. Lively. The Shallows is Jaws for a new generation. It is a bloody and thrilling ride from start to finish that will make you think twice about going in the water.
Lively plays Nancy Adams, a medical student and surfer coming to terms with the death of her mother some time ago. She has decided to visit her mom’s favorite hidden beach in order to gain some closure, while her father and sister only wish for her to come home.
When the day comes, Nancy ends up going out by herself (a big mistake for anyone) and ends up wiping out and crawling on a rock about 200 yards from shore. The problem? No one knows she’s out there, and there’s a giant, bloodthirsty shark circling her position. Now, Nancy must use her wits to escape the shark, all while nursing dangerous injuries and rapidly depleting strength.
The Shallows is a rare kind of PG-13 movie in that we actually see blood. Most films with this rating are toothless when it comes to showing aftermaths of violent attacks, but The Shallows sticks to its guns and isn’t afraid to show us the realistically gory results of the shark attacks. It isn’t over-the-top in any way, just gritty and intense. This is NOT a film to take your young kids to, as they will be scared by the shark and other environmental hazards Nancy must face in her journey for survival. I don’t scare easily, but many of these sequences had me glued to my seat hoping that she would not die. I was thoroughly invested in this character, something that few modern movies are able to do, and felt every hit she took.
That solid investment is due to the gritty performance by Blake Lively. Previously, I saw Lively as an actress who took on relatively safe roles, either because she didn’t have the range or couldn’t get any meaty parts. I was proven wrong with this, watching with awe as Lively delivered an A-game performance that makes me excited for her next project. This isn’t academy-award winning here, but based on what I had seen her do before (Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series and Green Lantern), I never would have pegged her for this kind of role. I guess it just goes to show that some actors just get some bad luck starting out, but secretly have it in them to deliver a great and memorable performance when given the chance.
The camerawork is also well-done, allowing intensity to build throughout and even make some effective jump scares. The shark scenes are jerky without using too much shakeycam, meaning you can actually see the shark when its onscreen. I don’t know about you, but I personally like to be able to see the thing that might haunt my nightmares in a movie. Lastly, the filmmakers want you to admire Lively’s beauty, but not in a pervy way. They show you close-ups of her bikini, but not exploitatively. However, if you just want to come and look at Blake Lively, you’ll get your money’s worth.
The Shallows is a well-acted, gritty, and unexpectedly scary thriller that proves that there may still be a reason to be afraid of the water. Enter them if you dare.
Rated PG-13 for Bloody Images, Intense Sequences of Peril, and Brief Strong Language