As the dark, wet, grim and nasty British winter grinds on I was overjoyed when a screener disc of The Shallows plopped through the letter box along with the usual bills, junk and Xmas cards from people I hate.
Set on a breath taking beach in Mexico the film follows Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) a medical student who has abandoned her studies to go traveling after her mother died making her life and learning seem meaningless. Looking to find herself and get over the grief she ends up on the aforementioned amazing beach where long ago her pregnant mother surfed hoping to find some peace of mind in her parents passing.
Alone except for some local surfers she hits the waves enjoying the sun and sea and sudden closeness she feels with her past. Chatting to the pair of native thrill seekers who are recording their wave ridding on a helmet-cam she asks if there is anything she should be aware of in this idyllic local however except from some sharp coral, jellyfish and a very high high tide the boys believe the area to be as close to paradise as you can get.
Sadly they are very wrong as after the pair leave Nancy notices the bitten and bloody body of a humpback whale and no sooner has she swum over to it than she is attacked by a huge great white shark. Gravely injured she drags herself onto the dying whale just in time to see the locals leaving. So starts Nancy’s living nightmare trapped injured and alone between the great white devil and the deep blue sea.
Since Jaws made us fear the water (and even some swimming pools, what only me?) shark movies have been a popular staple of survival horror with titles like Deep Blue Sea, Open Water and Bait bringing teeth filled thrills to the screen but never matching the true terror Spielberg managed to create.
Sadly though more recently movie sharks have become a joke with trashy straight to TV junk like 2-Headed Shark Attack, Sharktopus and obviously the terrible Sharknado 1 to 3 making the man eater as frightening as a goldfish, as believable as Poseidon and as fake as a stuffed mermaid.
Thankfully extremely able director Jaume Collet-Serram, best known for Orphan and the Liam Neeson vehicles Non-Stop and Unknown, has learnt the lessons and mistakes of the recent past and managed to craft The Shallows into a cracking survival horror putting the dread back in and making the huge fanged and fined creature a mighty foe for Blake Lively to face.
The key is as ever in not showing too much too soon and although Collet-Serram dwells on the spectacular location and Lively’s lithe body and sick surfing skills the shark attacks are brief and brutal giving only a glimpse of the beast most brilliantly within the wave Nancy surfs on at one particularly perilous point.
Blake Lively does a great job carrying the majority of the film alone except for her feathered comedy companion Steven Seagull and the amount of abuse and pain her body is put through in the water and out of it brings forth a heightened reality and tension to the horror equaling out the odds between her and her unstoppable uncaring adversary.
Considering the script and plot are both simple and straightforward the innovation within the direction is at times stunning with some interesting and arty techniques in showing Nancy’s phone which is overlaid on the main action seamlessly interweaving her internet usage without jarring us away from the wild setting.
More importantly there are tons of excellent underwater shots where we are plunged beneath the surface at the same time as the characters and a horrifying shark attack which we only see from Nancy’s petrified reactions and the gory aftermath. The effects are generally good however as always as the film reaches its climax the shark features more heavily and it’s easier to spot the CG although this is a minor quibble.
Very well shot and acted The Shallows goes a long way into undoing the damaged reputation sharks have suffered placing the deadly deep dwelling predator back on the list of scariest animals on Earth and hopefully inspiring fear of any and all H2O in a whole new generation of movie goers.