Just a few weeks ago I was opining, while reviewing 2010 sharkfest The Reef, how there really was no point in doing more shark movies if all that was ever thrown at them was fresh meat, and no fresh approach. Well, shit just got fresh – raw like sushi in fact. Cos The Shallows is where shark movies stop being silly, and return to the kind of grandeur Jaws (1975) always meant them to be.
Here is blonde and bonny Blake Lively (Mrs Ryan Reynolds – gawd, how inadequate would you feel double dating with that couple?!) and her fetching bosoms and tiny bikini bottoms as Nancy Adams, indulging in a lively (haw haw) spot of surfing off Mexico (well, technically Australia), but also in search of herself as she’s lost focus on her goal of becoming a doctor after mom lost her fight against cancer.
Nancy is your wholesome, regular all-American gal whose cleavage the director unfortunately loves a little too much … but then hey, if she were a guy I’d be applauding the director getting his GoPro up our hero’s crack so who am I to carp? All is going swimmingly (ho ho) for Nancy as she tackles the waves with some local Latinos on their all-but-deserted beach in true Bacardi style, banging remix setting the tone for the viewer, until her surfing chums depart and she feels that all-too-familiar cinematic watery swish along one of her dangly legs.
From that point, the film throbs with a steady pulse of adrenaline and mounting dread. And whereas more recent shark fare has involved hapless snorkellers/divers/partygoers more or less bobbing or thrashing about while being picked off one by one, Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, 2009) and writer Anthony Jaswinski (no big hits yet) refreshingly serve up a variety of different scenarios for viewers to sink their teeth into (hee hee).
Telling you what these are would be giving it away, but suffice to say that Nancy has a number of options to consider, decisions to make, and situations to deal with – not all simply shark-related. It’s this clever negotiation of a simple set-up – how will Nancy get to the shore? – that makes the film engrossing. The gorgeous National Geographic-style cinematography brings the thrills alive in aching Technicolor – filters and colour correction giving this ferociously life-threatening skirmish an Instagram makeover.
Lively herself is a solid, believable heroine in a pickle – grounded and mature enough not to dissolve into a predictable scream queen, not too above it all to scream her tits off when it’s appropriate, and fiercely tenacious enough to stitch up her own leg with some old jewellery while maintaining a dry sense of humour. She’s even woman enough to earn her own Disney sidekick: a wounded seagull she calls Steven (gedditt?)
The tale is told in the stylised realism of other survival films like 127 Hours (2010) featuring James Franco and Buried (2010) featuring … well, Ryan Reynolds … and benefits immensely from this treatment – great to look at, but also true to life.
With so much going for it in terms of pure, eye-popping entertainment – engaging heroine, great performance, startling action, gorgeous shots, unexpected directorial and script choices, one of the most seamless CGI jobs ever – it’s a pity that (gratuitous cleavage aside), there’s some silly shark behaviour that would probably have our scientific brethren clenching their teeth. In particular the amount of meat a great white might consume in a day before needing a substantial breather, chomping on steel girders, and … well, wait until the climax and hopefully you won’t laugh like a few people in my viewing did. Still, it’s a small price to pay for a movie that delivers on almost all fronts.