A: Yet another shark attack movie?
B: Well, it's directed by one of my Dark Castle favorites.
Experienced surfer Nancy (Blake Lively) has made her way for the first time to a secret Mexican beach (so secret that nobody is willing to tell her what it's even called) that carries a special significance between her and her late mother. On her own thanks to a hangover suffered by her supposed traveling companion, Nancy manages to gather some helpful safety information from some fellow secret surfers before she unwisely chooses to catch one last wave all by herself. Cue JAWS theme. The remainder of the film details Nancy's struggle for survival as she desperately tries to reach one stronghold after another (ranging from a gutted whale to rocks threatening to vanish under the tide). Both the shore and a permanently floating buoy tantalize her, but the Great White has no intention of leaving her to her own devices as long as he knows she's there--and wounded.
The pure survival story of THE SHALLOWS is a harrowingly effective as you might imagine coming from Jaume Collet-Serra, who served up potent horror in HOUSE OF WAX and (especially) ORPHAN before moving on to a string of interchangeable Liam Neeson thrillers (which reminds me that I never did see RUN ALL NIGHT). Nancy's med-school knowledge helps to explain the requisite stream-of-consciousness dialogue, particularly when she tries to apply bedside manner to herself during an exercise in self first-aid sure to convince you that Rambo got off easy; and the companionship of an injured seagull actually makes for a nice touch. The shark attacks themselves (patently CGI but at least not lingeringly so) carry plenty of impact, and the obligatory 'false hope' sequences provide significantly more than padding.
Yet even with all of that going for it, THE SHALLOWS nearly shoots itself down with the exposition. Personally, I think that if you've established such a terrifying and uncertain scenario for your main character, your viewer is going to root for her and hold his breath regardless. But THE SHALLOWS apparently thinks that you need an extra reason to care--that you really need to know WHY Nancy dropped out of medical school and what she realizes that she's 'really' fighting for back in the day-to-day world. Between that and the barrage of floating cell phone pictures and chat screens in the early going, I was shaking my head... and it's all to the film's credit that I'd forgotten all about that business up until the point that Nancy records her "this may be the end, so I want you to know..." BLAIR WITCH message.
Ultimately, the meat of the film pays off with an exciting and original resolution--between this and the genuinely beautiful photography, THE SHALLOWS deserves to be seen on the big screen.
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