Just when you thought it was finally safe to go back in the water…
Jaws (1975) revolutionised cinema in three ways. 1) It established the career of a certain well-known director by the name of Steven Spielberg. 2) It was one of the first, if not the first, Blockbuster movie. 3) It made sharks seem really really scary, continuing to turn generation after generation into galeophobics (those with an intense fear of water due to sharks). 41 years later (yep, just take a minute to ponder that!) The Shallows comes along, using a great white shark to once more terrify audiences. Does it work? For the most part yes it really does!
Shortly after the death of her mother medical student Nancy (Blake Lively) decides to take a break from college and go travelling. She’s decided to retrace her mother’s steps and has travelled to a secret beach in Mexico to surf. Her favourite photo of her mother is her being stood on the beach, surfboard in hand, just after finding out she was pregnant with Nancy. Kind local Carlos (Óscar Jaenada) drives Nancy to the beach and drops her off. Nancy proceeds to surf for hours, first alongside two local residents and then on her own. After sensing a commotion in the water she travels a little further out when a great white shark attacks. A badly wounded Nancy drags herself to a pile of rocks roughly 200m from the shore, but the beast is circling and stopping her from reaching the shore. What will follow is a test of wills between man and nature – will Nancy survive?
In the 41 years since Jaws (again, can you believe it?!?) about 83 movies (yep, I counted) featuring killer sharks have graced big, small and non existent screens. For every Jaws there’s been at least ten Jaws:The Revenge. Thankfully The Shallows is more like the former than the latter.
There’s a few reasons The Shallows has the makings of something of a modern masterpiece. There’s the fact it’s a bottle thriller – a movie set solely in one small location, think Buried (2010), Moon (2009) and 127 Hours (2010)- is an excellent decision. Bottle movies play us right in the situation the characters are in , we the audience cannot escape just as the character we are watching cannot. Having Nancy trapped on a small pile of rocks, that are soon to disappear with the tide, really ratchets up the tension. It allows us to connect with the tension she is feeling and develop our own sympathy tension. Even though we have only just meet her we know quite a chunk about her and we are desperate for her to pull through, no matter how unlikely that regularly seems.
This, however, would not be as effective were it not for Lively’s performance. It is not hyperbolic or oversimplified to say she carries this film. For the majority of the film, aside from a temporary companion seagull she names Steven, she is alone on screen. At least 60 minutes pass where she has no-one to communicate with and no-one to help her. Lively excels in communicating every emotion – from the pain of her energy, the horrendous worry over her situation to her savvy quick mindedness as she handles each situation. Should it have really been warranted Lively truly proves her skill as a fine actress.
Her excellent performance is immensely well served by the cinematography. The sequences of the shark attacking are as chilling as you’d hope/expect/want. The scenes where the shark cannot be seen, when we know it is lurking, are equally-wracking. An excellent balance is used between showing the beauty of this secluded and breath-taking beach along with the horror that lurks beneath the surface. There’s also an effective integration of social media/mobile phones early on which whilst highlighting this is a modern movie also had to the believability of the situation and of Nancy as a character.
The only negative has to be the final 5 minutes/ ending which really test the realms of believability.
All in all The Shallows has plenty of thrills and chills, with scares that will compel most of the audience. And, at less than 90 minutes long, it’s a taut and lean thriller. Well worth a watch.
‘The Shallows‘ is in cinemas now.