The Shallows may be the world’s most terrifying Billabong commercial, but it’s also a beautifully shot and excellently crafted piece of minimalist genre filmmaking by Horror specialist, Jaume Collet-Serra.
Filmed on the stunning coastal beaches of New South Wales, Australia, the film essentially borrows the opening sequence from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and protracts it for 86 mostly thrilling minutes. After films like Deep Blue Sea and Sharknado, parodied the legacy of Jaws into almost irredeemable levels of absurdity, it’s refreshing to finally see a movie where sharks are fearsome again.
The lean story drops a bikini-clad, med-school dropout, Nancy (a game and committed Blake Lively) at a secluded Mexican beach that was once a favourite oasis of her now deceased mother. Grief-stricken and torn by her gnawing responsibilities, she takes to the turquoise where a larger/deadlier metaphor is lingering underneath the surface.
Cue the ogling camera and slow-motion shots of the stunning surf and this shapely surfer.
After brief interplay with some locals, Nancy is finally isolated enough to allow herself to breathe and reflect. That is, until she inadvertently interrupts a territorial shark’s feeding area and said shark takes a bite at her leg, turning the deep blue into Argento red.
Alone, injured, petrified and stranded on a rock that will slowly disappear with the tide, Nancy must transform from buxom sex symbol to against-the-odds action hero if she wants to avoid becoming fish bait for a swirling predator.
Reportedly inspired by her hubby’s (Ryan Reynolds) work on 2010’s Buried, Lively excels in the physically taxing role that also recalls to Sandra Bullock’s work in Gravity. Lively’s Nancy has wits, intelligence and resourcefulness to match her beauty and athletic physique. After the initial attack, she cleverly reinvents her surfy trinkets to mend her garish leg wounds. Her isolation forces her to talk through the process to the audience, as she would a small child in a doctor’s office.
Collet-Serra’s direction and Anthony Jaswinski’s fairly clever script ensures that The Shallows never feels like a poor man’s Spielberg, and the attempt to maintain a sense of realism for the film’s first two thirds is appreciated. As the woman vs. shark stakes intensify, the events do become a little too implausible-bordering-on-absurd, but the thrills remain intact.
While the film briefly dips into sappy, Hollywood sentimentality towards its conclusion, it does enough right and delivers mightily on its babe vs. shark premise, that it cements itself as the best type of B-movie.
There’s plenty of suspense and dread to make this the perfect popcorn film to end the American summer. Which coincidentally is the Australian Spring. So it’s also the perfect time for Australians to thrust themselves back into our gorgeous, shark-invested oceans.
Oh yeah: the genre has its bite back.