I’ve only got one thing to say after watching The Shallows. Fuck the ocean.
Jaume Collet-Serra tells the story of Nancy (Blake Lively), a once-was medical student who seeks out a sentimentally significant beach that somehow remains unknown to most. But seeing as that alone would be a pretty boring film to sit through, our protagonist finds herself stranded a mere 200 yards from shore surrounded by the threat of Jaws…shit, a shark, that would love to gobble her up.
There are plenty of single location movies that I’ve enjoyed, and when these films are done right, they are great movies to watch. Rear Window, Buried and Phone Booth are prime examples of this particular genre, and there’s no arguing that minimalism can be a very interesting and effective plot device. What is paramount for single-location films, especially with only one primary character leading the story, is that our protagonist needs to deliver a solid performance. Thankfully, The Shallows ticks these boxes with Blake Lively providing a solid performance in pushing the narrative forward and, in turn, allowed an interesting story to be told.
But what I enjoyed most about the film was the authentic and raw intensity surrounding Nancy’s predicament that the film succeeds in showing. This sense of realism is the film’s core method of providing a horrifying experience, pulling us into a situation that we, as the viewer, never want to find ourselves in. What was truly terrifying, however, was how close our protagonist was to securing survival. Most people are scared shitless of the thought of being stranded in the middle of the ocean, yet feel totally secure when being close to shore. Serra interestingly flipped this sense of security on its head and exposed the vulnerability surrounding our presence in the sea to an extreme level.
The intense, race against the clock action was at full force during the battle of wits between Nancy and the predator, with these scenes forcing us to grind our teeth in suspense. This was helped by the real sense of claustrophobia surrounding Nancy’s situation, a theme that may come as a surprise seeing as the film is set in the open ocean. I also have to give credit to Serra’s creation of a visually stunning movie, with the accumulation of wide shots, bird’s-eye-views and entrancing underwater scenes being incorporated into the movie – with all of these going hand in hand to present an authentic and thrilling viewing.
Despite the suspenseful tone that lasts through two-thirds of the movie, the narrative does take some time to kick in. The entire first act is rather tedious to sit through, with the introduction of the seemingly-pointless subplot surrounding Nancy’s disrupted relationship with her family which held very little significance to the plot as a whole. With the death of Nancy’s mother being the main encouragement to visit the seemingly unknown beach, you can’t help but speculate whether this was needed in the first place. Was it entirely necessary to have a deceased mother and rattled relationship between father and daughter to add emotion to the narrative? The intensity of the entrapment itself was enough to pull on our heart strings, and sometimes less is often more when trying to tell a story.
The dialogue between Lively’s character and the audience could also have been done a little better. For me, there should have been more scenes with Nancy talking directly to the GoPro as seen during the second act of the film, with the continuous need for her to talk to herself in order to keep viewers up to date seemed a little convenient However, with these very minor flaws aside, you can have a very good time with this movie.
A Suspenseful, Intense, and Terrifying Experience!
With all the hype being focused on the major blockbusters this year, it’s refreshing to see a film that stands out so brightly from its competition. In summary, The Shallows does a superb job in providing a compelling and claustrophobic battle of wits between human and predator, and although we’ve seen many other films like it, Serra adds a fresh spin on a genre that seemed to have reached its limits.