This is no “Jaws” ripoff.
Movie Review #1,066
Distributed by Columbia Pictures & Sony Pictures Releasing. Drama, Horror, Thriller. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes. Rated PG-13 for bloody images, intense sequences of peril, and brief strong language. Released June 24, 2016. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Writer: Anthony Jaswinski. Starring Blake Lively.
It’s pretty difficult to make a movie with a shark and entirely avoid comparisons to “Jaws”. No film can do it. I’m sure that there’s someone out there, somewhere, somehow, who has compared “The Shallows” to “Jaws”. It’s the validity of the argument made, not the opinion held, that matters. So let me just say that, while I respect anyone who thinks that “The Shallows” is like “Jaws”, I disagree.
This isn’t a shark attack movie. It’s a survival movie. “The Shallows” follows roughly the same formula that “127 Hours” followed six years ago. Blake Lively is the single most important element of the film. Her charismatic, lighthearted character, Nancy Adams, makes us eager to watch her and solely her for most of the movie. Her character defies the biggest stereotypes in Hollywood’s book. She’s a blonde vacationing on the beach, but that’s only because she’s taking a break from medical school to spend some time surfing. She is bitten by a shark and manages to crawl safely onto a rock and stay there, her only companion being a seagull that is also injured. She now has to plan her escape, but this is more difficult than she’d like it to be, for one reason: the shark is continuously circling the rock where she’s stationed herself.
“The Shallows” is Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra’s seventh film. His first three were horror movies, and his next three were action movies starring Liam Neeson. His experience in the latter does him a huge favor during the final act, but it’s really the former that makes the film so exciting to watch. “The Shallows” works because it’s suspenseful but not mysterious. The story is simple, even predictable, but contrary to what its title might indicate, not “shallow.” Simplicity seems to work in its favor. We can estimate what is going to occur throughout most of the story, but the question that remains on our mind is when it will happen.
Pacing is everything to Collet-Serra. Sometimes it’s to take us out of our comfort zone as viewers. The director prolongs the gore to the point that it becomes difficult to watch. Watching Nancy use her necklace and earrings to give herself stitches is a sight that should have earned the film an instant R rating. Sometimes the pacing works to make us doubt our expectations of the film. Again, the question here is not what will happen but when it will happen. “The Shallows” operates at a lifelike pace that leads its audience to wonder if the film is so predictable after all. Especially during the final third of the movie, we begin to wonder whether the heroine will actually survive the film. Let’s be honest: the film isn’t 100% original, and its deliberate pace isn’t always put to such a creative use. Early on, it’s used for humorous effect, where the increasing tension only results in a “false alarm.” If you’ve seen any horror movie, then it’s likely you’re familiar with the concept. But at the same time, the filmmaker’s sense of humor, coupled with Blake Lively’s spirited (or perhaps “lively”) personality, has a definite role in setting “The Shallows” apart from other horror movies.