The Shallows is a survival story similar to Matt Damon’s The Martian, Redford’s All is Lost, and Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. To survive the battle of man, or woman, versus nature, the individual has to be tenacious, resourceful, intelligent, and reach the philosophical conclusion that we are an interdependent species. The Texan surfer fulfils this quota.
After a family bereavement, Nancy Adams (Blake Lively), seeks solace at a hidden Mexican beach paradise. Heaven has a knack of turning into hell, however: the beach is home to a homicidal shark. Adams becomes acquainted with the predator – the only way to become aware of a shark since Jaws – via bite, a leg injury that leaves her stranded on a rock 500 metres from shore. From this weak position, she engineers and executes a survival plan.
Visually the film is excellent. The director, Jaume Collet-Serra, and cinematographer, Flavio Martínez Labiano, deserve credit; the cinematography is exceptionally crisp and the direction is more than admirable. Blake Lively cuts a good figure as the beleaguered tourist; indeed, it has been a while since we witnessed a female, Ripley-esque, survivalist.
The film is held back by characterisation, the failure to fully deliver on suspense, and an ordinary plot. In many ways, the first two are related. Our understanding of Lively is –pardon the pun – shallow, we know little about Adams back-story or her personality, a factor that results in us not fully investing in the character. Should we not be fully involved in the character it naturally lowers the suspense. Instead of slowly ratcheting up the suspense, the film feels punctuated by mild flutters. The final scene also comes – again excuse the pun – out the blue. Again this affected the suspense.
The plot is also problematic. Why is this shark killing for pleasure? After feasting on a Blue Whale, a few local residents and some tourists in the space of 12 hours he still hankers for Texan flesh. There is only one preposterous conclusion: he is clinically insane and killing for sport. The finned villain looks as much; the shark is ludicrously designed to resemble a ‘baddie’. Missing teeth, and bearing scars from previous homo-sapien encounters, it looks more like Tom Berenger from Platoon than Jaws. We also find out that the tourist guide who dropped Adams off has one leg, another obvious victim of this shark’s human grievance agenda. Which begs the question, why on arrival did he not mention the 20-foot man-eater that lives in the neighbourhood? “Whoops, slipped my mind, sorry!” My Thomas Cook holiday rep would definitely receive a stern finger-wagging for such an oversight, should I have any digits left to wag.
There are a few nice touches from the screenwriters. Adams poignantly returns to a beach where her mother was pregnant with her. It has been observed that fish return to where they were born to continue life. For Adams, this turns into a site of regeneration and rebirth. Other than that, this is an ordinary, if visually impressive, movie.
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