Saying that "The Shallows" is the best shark movie since "Jaws" isn't saying much. Mainly because there aren't that many good shark movies, but also because it's not. It is definitely better than the "Sharknado" movies, but "Deep Blue Sea," "Open Water," and maybe even the goofy-as-all-hell "Shark Night" are more fun.
"The Shallows" follows Blake Lively, who has arrived at a secluded beach that her recently deceased mother found while pregnant with her. Lively has left med school and is traveling the world, hoping to find a bit of closure with her grief. After video chatting with her father and little sister, Lively hops on her surfboard to ride some of the most pristine waves ever captured on film.
Once she is about a hundred yards off shore, she finds a dead whale with some very deep bites taken out of it. With barely enough time to think, the shark that killed the whale bites her and she takes refuge atop the rotting carcass. The rest of the film focuses on Lively MacGyver-ing her way to safety and doing battle with a very nasty giant shark.
Every moment of the film that focuses on Lively using her brains to stay alive is classic. The tension and the pacing—combined with the gorgeous cinematography and dread-inducing score—make "The Shallows" a memorable cinematic experience. What keeps the film from entering the realm of the great Woman Vs. Nature films is the character development.
Normally in a movie like this, any sort of backstory or emotional through-line is discarded for more intensity and gore, but there's plenty of clichéd family drama here. The idea of a young woman finding the beach her mother surfed while she was in her belly is fantastic, but too much of the finale rides on the audience caring about her relationship with her sister and father.
Lively is phenomenal in the role and carries this movie effortlessly. We genuinely care about her surviving the ordeal, so we don't need pointless emotional manipulation tying her to characters we have no investment in. Lively is enough. Her eyes, her physicality, her presence...all of it is powerful enough to invest us. The director should have trusted his leading lady more here.
Aside from some plot issues, there are a few dodgy CGI moments with the shark that ring false, as well as one moment where Lively's face is superimposed over a surfer to make it look like she was doing her own stunts. The flaws are fairly minor, but they remove the viewer from the building intensity.
This might sound like a harsh review, but the film is actually quite good. It's so well made and acted that the bad moments stand out that much more. "The Shallows" is, for the most part, an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that will make you fear beautiful places, especially if you aren't sure what might be lurking beneath the surface.
Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra
Now playing at Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX