“Does for surfing what Open Water did for scuba-diving.”
The older I get, the less any kind of extreme sports appeal. It’s likely an awareness that life is limited, and I’d rather hang on to it for as long as possible, rather than risk it in pursuit of a quick thrill. Parachuting? Skiing? Hell, even camping? No, thanks. I’ll be by the pool – not in it – with a cold drink and an exciting novel. This inevitably limits the attraction of this kind of “true life” adventures, because they rarely bother to demonstrate why the protagonist is doing what they are. Admittedly, that’s not the point: it’s all about the peril into which they get, and their struggles to extricate themselves. Everything else is somewhat superfluous, and that’s one of the issues here. Do we care about Nancy’s mid-twenties career choice crisis? Or that she’s on the beach because her late mother was there decades previously? Probably not. We’re here to see woman vs. shark.
Fortunately, the film largely delivers on this front, and it’s also nice to see a film where the heroine has absolutely no romantic interest at all. Once shark hits surfboard, and woman hits water, there are virtually no other speaking parts. It’s Nancy (Lively) in a stark battle for survival against the creature that’s circling her small, rock outcrop sanctuary. And with a large, dead whale nearby, the shark certainly isn’t going anywhere. That’s a problem for Nancy, because the initial attack has left her with a very badly-gashed thigh and potential gangrene. Fortunately, her medical training helps her patch up her own wounds, though the degree of damage she takes over the course of the film remains impressive. Enjoy the bikini-clad hottie, over whom the camera lingers in the early scenes – because by the end, Nancy looks more like she has gone five rounds with Gina Carano.
Inevitably, there are some concessions required. You’ve got a film that largely consists of a woman on a rock, so there’s more “thinking out loud” scenes than one normally sees. The shark, like most movie monsters, also demonstrates admirable dramatic timing, showing up when needed for the plot, and staying away during the moments necessary for the audience to get its breath back. Collet-Serra does an admirable job with the pacing, and the economical 87 minute running-time flies by. If the gilled antagonist here is a killing machine, streamlined by evolution over millions of years, with all extraneous irrelevancies removed, much the same can probably be said about this movie.
It has now been more than 40 years since Jaws made the entire world afraid to go into the water, but over the past few years, the shark movie has become more of a running-joke. Much as I must confess to having enjoyed Sharknado and its cronies, it’s nice to see something which redresses the balance somewhat. The Shallows certainly treats these lethal denizens of the deep with the respect and fear which they likely deserve, and endorses my ongoing decision to stick to dry land.
Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra
Star: Blake Lively