I am a big fan of Jaws. It’s terrifying. It’s characters are relatable and / or memorable. It’s quotable. And it’s often cited as a ‘best practices’ way of teasing a monster before revealing it for greatest impact. It’s amazing. But it’s also scientifically questionable. Which is fine. But because I cut it slack, I have less slack to cut for all other shark films. (i have a finite amount of slack, ok?) A shark film would have to be pretty damn great for me to cut it some of the slack I reserve for Jaws. Enter: The Shallows. A relatively straight-forward killer shark film in an era of shark tornados and shark avalanches. Those ridiculous films, through their very ridiculousness, avoid the Jaws comparisons that shark films are inevitably subjected to. For the same reason, we don’t compare National Lampoon’s Van Wilder 3 to The Big Lebowski even though they’re both comedies. So, when filmmakers endeavor to make a killer shark movie that isn’t silly, they have a high bar to reach before they even start pre-production. You’re probably wondering how The Shallows stacks up. Well, read on, dear reader!
Nancy hitches a ride with a seemingly friendly local to the ultra-secluded, secret Mexican beach that her mom told her about before she died. Nancy wants to surf those tasty waves to honor her mother’s memory. (i guess?) The seemingly friendly local drops her off but dodges the question when Nancy asks him what the name of the beach is so she can tell her friend where she is. Oh well. Maybe the two seemingly friendly surfers out in the water will tell her. Nope, they won’t. Besides, they’re done for the day anyway. Now she’s all alone to think about dropping out of med school and dropping in on those gnar-gnar waves. But what’s this?! A whale carcass? Grody! And what’s feeding on said carcass? A dang Great White Shark! And it’s mad that she’s intruding on its feeding ground! (feeding water?) Naturally, it’s a vengeful shark, so it’s not going to let her brief intrusion slide. It bites her surfboard (or something) and strands her on a rock. Maybe the drunk, fat racist stereotype on the beach will help her! Nope. He’ll just wave and then steal her phone from her bag. At least she has a cool seagull with a broken wing to keep her company while she thirsts to death. Or will she? How will she survive this monstrous, hateful killing machine?!
I won’t keep you in suspense – The Shallows falls FAR short of the killer shark movie bar set by Jaws. Sure, there are some tense moments, but it’s a cliched mess overall. There’s absolutely zero reason for this shark to attack considering the fact that our introduction to the animal was made as it feasted upon a whale carcass. Why would it leave that easy meal to chase Blake Lively around for 24 hours? Revenge? No. That’s impossibly stupid. For sport? Hardly! I mean, it’s not a dolphin! (the real assholes of the sea) Speaking of dolphins, there is some really low-grade CGI on display here. It’s often painfully obvious. (ie: a cartoonish pod of dolphins and the shark’s comically SyFy-quality CG demise. if you’re upset about that spoiler then you’ve never seen a movie before) There are other (non-science related) logical flaws too. Nancy uses her phone to video chat with her family for a bit of corny exposition and stakes-inflating, but she can’t look up the damn beach on the thing? The filmmakers also chose to use the increasingly common device of popping superimposed text bubbles onto the screen to show text messages. That type of fourth wall breaking (and it IS 4th wall breaking) takes the viewer right out of the story. And in this case, the story’s hold over the viewer’s attention is tenuous already. To her credit though, Lively turns in a decent performance as the smart young woman in a dire situation. And she carries the movie as the sole on-screen character for 90% of the film. It’s just that the dire situation she’s in is too frustratingly trite (and often nonsensical) to make an enjoyable story for anyone who isn’t a huge, uncritical Blake Lively fan.
The Final Cut: The Shallows is a cliched killer shark movie with poor CGI, muddled science and logic, and at least one cringe-worthy characterization of a Mexican. Blake Lively is the one redeeming factor, but she can’t steer this clunker out of stormy waters (nautical metaphor!).