The Shallows Review | A Surprisingly Sharp Set of Jaws

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From the moment I saw the first trailer, I knew The Shallows was a film I needed to see. I’ve been a fan of Blake Lively since her Gossip Girl days, so I’m always down to check out her work. But more than that, The Shallows looked like a gorgeous film – the color palatte and cinematography looked exceptional, and the tension in the trailer alone was palpable. With my newly discovered taste for horror/genre film, I decided I’d give this movie a go with the hope that it would be marginally entertaining and pretty to look at. I was right about the latter, and I wildly underestimated the former, because this film is nothing short of gripping to watch.

Before I dive into this review, I must confess that I have not seen any of the notable shark movies. Yes, that’s right. I have never seen any of the Jaws movies, The ReefDeep Blue Sea, etc. At first it was a matter of being too young to watch them, but by the time I became an adult, I just didn’t care about the genre enough to watch the classics. With so many NEW things to watch, it’s too difficult for me to go back and watch older movies (the list of things I need to watch is already stupidly long). However, after seeing The Shallows, I plan to at least give Jaws a watch, because I was on the edge of my seat a good chunk of the time while watching this latest shark movie.

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For the uninformed, The Shallows is film about a surfer named Nancy (Blake Lively) who ventures off to a secret beach that very few people know about. Through a series of unfortunate events, she ends up stranded in the water and becomes the play-thing for a diabolical great white shark.

It’s a simple premise, but it pays off because we don’t really have to worry about secondary characters or uninteresting subplots. We’re with Nancy the whole ride through, and it’s a ride that gets more intense the longer you sit in your seat. There were actually a few people who got up and left the theater halfway through the film because they couldn’t handle it, if that tells you anything. That’s not to say the movie is all scares, though! In proper Hitchcockian fashion, there are moments of reprieve, where you’re allowed to laugh and catch your breath before getting pulled back under. The pacing is near-perfect, and all the laughs and scares land beautifully.

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To clarify, though, there is more nuance to the film’s story (and a few other characters) that vests you in Nancy’s fight for survival – and that’s really what this movie is. It’s a survival horror film, and you quickly find yourself rooting for Nancy while trying to figure out how she’s going to get back to safety. Blake Lively does a swimmingly good job making you care for her character, and she displays an incredible range of acting chops and emotion. I was discussing it with a friend of mine after the movie, and we both agree that this could mark the beginning of Lively’s career renaissance. She delivers a stand-out performance, and I’m eager to see what she does next.

As mentioned before, I went into the theater expecting a gorgeously filmed movie, and it really is gorgeous. Like, jaw-droppingly gorgeous. There were gratuitous shots of what can only be described as water porn (I kid you not, it was so lush) and I did not want it to end. The film’s director, Jaume Collet-Serra, should be commended for achieving such a striking vision, as well as the cinematographer, editor, and art directors. This movie could have easily been visually cheap and uninspired – throw a fin in the water and everyone gets scared – but the creative team’s work reminded me just how beautiful (and terrifying) the ocean can be.

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Now, despite getting so much right, the film does stumble in a few places. One of my largest complaints is how they incorporated texting/video chatting in this movie. It tries to pull a House of Cards by having the text messages/videos display virtually on the screen as Nancy is interacting with her phone, but the end result looks tacked on and gimmicky. And while we’re talking about it, another thing that looks tacked on is Blake Lively’s face – literally, they just digitally imposed her face on an actual surfer’s body. I didn’t really expect Blake Lively to actually surf (even though Gerard Butler actually did most of his own surfing in HIS surfing movie), but I do hope it gets cleaned up before home release, because it’s definitely jarring to see. Thankfully, everything else in the movie looks wonderfully realistic, from the massive shark to Nancy’s various wounds and afflictions.

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Speaking of, I have to say that I really appreciated how realistically her wounds were depicted in this movie – both from a makeup and a narrative perspective. It’s far too common for horror movies – or movies in general – to ignore the physiology behind wounds and the way injury impacts the body, but this movie addresses them all on an intelligent level. Yes, it helps that Blake Lively’s character is a med student, so she can do some explaining to the audience, but regardless of the character’s knowledge, the filmmakers (and Lively) depict serious injury in a serious fashion. At times it even felt like I was watching the beach equivalent of The Revenant (another terse, survival-horror-esque film) because it all comes together so damn well.

The Shallows is a surprising film. Judging from the trailers, you’d think you’d know all the major beats in the story, but the movie is fresh and it keeps you guessing. I won’t say if there’s a twist or not, but the film manages to delight and astonish as much as it shocks and terrifies. If you’re looking for a fun, scary, and moving summer flick, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that’s better than this.

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