Written By Matt Taylor
This summer’s most exciting film doesn’t star superheroes, alien invaders or secret agents. All you need for edge-of-your-seat thrills is Blake Lively, a CGI shark and the vast, ominous sea.
The Shallows has an undeniably simple story: Lively plays a surfer who is bit by a shark while swimming by herself at an isolated beach in Mexico. Suddenly, a meditative vacation becomes a fight for survival as she tries to find her way back to the shore from a floating rock in the middle of the ocean. There’s no subtext, no deeper message, and only rudimentary character development. But that doesn’t matter: for 80 minutes, The Shallows keeps audiences on the edge of their seats, consistently raising the stakes and getting the most out of their abbreviated run time.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra has already established a reputation for himself in the film community as the unofficial king of the modern B-movies. In addition to his Liam Neeson led thrillers (Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night), he is responsible for two of the best horror movies from the past ten years: the grossly underrated House of Wax and the twisted Orphan. The Shallows is his most mature work to date. His direction is so impressive that all the B-movies elements are raised to an A-level. With minimal resources, Sera makes the most out of his set, putting every single element of the ocean, as well as every prop at his disposal, into the story effectively. And, while the film is certainly one of the more hardcore PG-13 movies I’ve seen, this is a film largely driven on suspense – not gore, so it remains effectively entertaining and fun, not hard to watch. By the time the film finally lets up, viewers will be left thoroughly entertained and maybe even ready for more.
Lively also makes for an effective movie star here. Left to carry the movie almost entirely on her own, she proves to have a surprisingly charismatic screen presence, as well as strong physical ability. While some of the plot developments are perhaps a bit over the top, Lively seems believably strong and powerful, and it actually feels like she’d be able to defend herself from a shark. Furthermore, she proves to be funny, appropriately badass and, easy to sympathize with. Her work here serves as a compelling case study as to why she deserves more roles in big budget productions.
While some may roll their eyes and scoff at the idea of paying the high price of a movie ticket to watch a former Gossip Girl face off against a shark for less than 90 minutes, I’d argue that you’d be hard pressed to find a bigger bang for your buck this summer. This is a suspenseful, impressively directed and well-acted thrill ride, produced for only $17 million but with even more creativity and ingenuity than its more expensive peers. In terms of summertime escapism, you can’t do much better than this.
Overall Rating: 9 out of 10