REVIEW: ‘The Shallows’ Is A Thrilling Story Of Survival

It might not make you afraid to go in the water, but it will entertain the hell out of you at the theater.

“The Shallows,” directed by Jaume Collet-Serra who previously helmed Liam Neeson thrillers “Unknown” and “Non-Stop” tells the story of Nancy. Played by Blake Lively, Nancy is a young woman who has taken time out of her pursuit of a medical degree to ride the waves at a secluded beach. The location the film takes place at is special to her, since her mother surfed at the same beach years ago.

After a full day of surfing, though, Nancy soon finds herself in a feeding ground of a great white shark and her only salvation away from the shore is a small rock formation. This means she is left to discover some way of getting to safety while being secluded.

While not reaching the levels of some other survival movies, such as “127 Hours” or “The Grey” and doesn’t hit the greatness of Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws,” “The Shallows” is still a suspenseful and fun picture.

In terms of storytelling, the movie gives just enough background and characteristics to Nancy before the whole shark attack stuff gets going, allowing the audience to have a relatable character to get attached to. This portion of the film doesn’t overstay its welcome, either, moving on as soon as the character, location and surroundings have all been well established.

Subsequently, this allows the second and third acts to be completely immersed in nothing but the survival aspects, making for a complete thriller. The film is well paced, too. Nancy is constantly given new dilemmas, has to come up with different solutions and eventually moves from place to place. All of this prevents the movie from feeling too repetitive.

It helps that the movie doesn’t run too long, either. It comes in at a very manageable hour and a half, so there’s never a moment of watch checking as things go along.

Another strength in “The Shallows” was the camera work and style from Collet-Serra. From start to finish, there are multiple angles to show all the action, whether they be the view from underwater, to overhead shots and even close-ups. There’s enough variety to detail both the scope of how much Nancy is cut off from the shore and the in depth severity of her injuries.

There’s also some great decisions in how the movie’s shark attacks are presented. For example, the first major shark attack happens off screen, with the camera instead focusing in on Nancy’s horrified reaction.

In films like these, though, the biggest factor is likely the performer playing the survivalist. In this case, Lively really provides a solid performance. Lively, who I’ve enjoyed in other flicks such as “The Town” and “The Age of Adaline,” does exactly what she needs to do from start to finish.

When she needs to be emotional, she pulls it off, when she’s suffering from her injuries, she sells it and when she gets the fire in her eyes and decides to fight back, she displays the right balance of energy and desperation. As previously stated, Nancy gets enough characterization for the audience to root for her, too.

“The Shallows” certainly isn’t perfect, though. For one, the movie seemed to have an ‘extra ending,’ meaning it should have cut to black a couple minutes earlier. Another issue is that the shark’s behavior isn’t exactly scientifically accurate and some of the film is a bit far fetched. On top of that, some of the CGI scenes with the shark were a bit unconvincing.

With all that said, “The Shallows” is still an engaging thrill ride. It’s fast paced, technically well made, has a perfect run-time for what it’s trying to deliver and a strong performance from its lead, necessary for a survival movie. It may not be the best shark or survival movie ever, but it’s a good time and that’s something a person wants from a summer film. 4 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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