The Shallows (2016)
Easily the best shark movie since Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, however, that isn’t really saying much considering that almost every other entry in this subgenre of horror is more or less disappointing. But what really separates The Shallows from the rest of the pack is its back-to-basics formula that relies on its minimal settings & expertly crafted moments of nail-biting terror to deliver the scares, instead of indulging in excess & going overboard, a mistake many of its cousins are guilty of.
The story of The Shallows follows Nancy Adams, a young explorer who, after losing her mother to cancer, heads to a secluded beach in Mexico to find closure, for the place happens to be the same one her mother was present at when she was pregnant with her. Upon arrival, she heads straight into the waters and surfs for hours but her adventure is eventually cut short and turns into a race for survival when she is attacked by a great white shark and is left stranded only a short distance from the shore.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the movie opens with a found-footage segment that offers a brief glimpse of the events to come. It takes its time to familiarise the audience with the lead character but once the great white surfaces on the screen, this exotic adventure turns into a survival horror and remains tense & unnerving for the remainder of its runtime. The great white is handled with a less-is-more approach, which unsurprisingly works in favour of the movie, and although there are a few supporting characters around, the focus is always on our lead.
Blake Lively delivers a strong performance in the role of Nancy and sells the agony & desperation of her character with precision. The great white shark is another CGI beast but very few moments give away its realism. Much of its lush location & exotic surrounding was created from scratch by its VFX team yet it looks drop-dead gorgeous, and is exquisitely photographed. There is a lot that is refreshing about The Shallows, whether it’s the return to old school horror or greater emphasis on our character’s peril than gore or its genuinely effective scares & well-sustained suspense.
But there is also a lot that prevents it from attaining a greater height, and the worst offender of all is Anthony Jaswinski’s screenplay. Sure, it packs a compelling story but it also contains many unnecessary moments that serve as nothing but fillers. Neither Nancy’s backstory nor her family life was needed here as the simple premise of “a woman who gets attacked by a shark while surfing” sounds compelling enough. As for its other shortcomings, its stylised camerawork is a hit n miss, Editing fails to eliminate the nonessential segments from the final print while Marco Beltrami’s score is unable to provide the added intensity to its nerve-wracking moments.
On an overall scale, The Shallows is tense, suspenseful & downright effective when the screen is shared by Blake Lively & the great white shark that’s always lurking in close proximity, but a few bad decisions & easily avoidable mistakes made over the course of its runtime ultimately prevent it from finishing as a genre masterpiece. The plot needed to be more lean n more mean but what the filmmakers eventually put on screen still works as a worthy & welcome addition to horror and, as far as shark films go, this survival thriller is undeniably the best one to surface since Spielberg invented this subgenre back in 1975. In a sentence, The Shallows isn’t Jaws for a new generation but it comes real close at times to becoming one. Absolutely recommended.