Studio: Columbia Pictures
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Writer: Anthony Jaswinski
Producer: Lynn Harris, Matti Leshem
Stars: Blake Likely, Oscar Jaenada, Angelo Josue Lozano Corzo, Jose Manuel Trujillo Salas, Brett Cullen, Sedona Legge, Pablo Calva, Diego Espejel, Janelle Bailey
A bloodthirsty shark stalks an injured surfer stranded on a rock in the remote waters of a secluded Mexican beach.
On a scale of sighing yawn to jaw on the floor, “it’s fine, I guess” is the maximum amount of enthusiasm to be marshaled for “The Shallows.” The film has pretty locations, a likable lead, and a trim runtime cycling swiftly through predictable thrills before anxiously asking, “how much more is there?” becomes a real nag. Missing is an x-factor to push the movie above merely being Blake Lively versus a shark in an 80-minute showdown of patience and perseverance.
Unseen BFF Anna is MIA after a boozy “I’m on vacation” hookup, leaving Nancy on her own to seek out a secret beach for surfing and solitude. These secluded Mexican waters were a sanctuary for Nancy’s deceased mother, to whom Nancy is paying tribute while simultaneously satiating her own personal wanderlust.
The rest of this recap could continue in greater detail, or save the time and the effort by leaving it at: Nancy becomes stranded alone in the water while a deadly shark closes in for the kill. A simple premise suits this sort of straightforward survival thriller pitting a woman against the wild. Less understandable is why everything else in the story is required to be so rote.
“The Shallows” is a cable TV MOW, and not necessarily a feature length one at that, wearing the wardrobe of a summer studio film. Director Jaume Collet-Serra puts the squeeze on his capable talents to keep visual appeal crisp and the pace as tight as possible from his end. Nancy’s introductory background comes courtesy of several smartphone screen overlays breaking up otherwise standard staging, for instance. Snips of style, even complemented by colorful curls of crystal blue waves from underwater cameras, cannot drown pat plotting from Anthony Jaswinski’s average script, however.
“The Shallows” confronts the same challenges every one-person survival story usually does. It solves those issues the same way those films do, too.
Nancy, being the only human character onscreen for a majority of the movie, naturally exhibits a newfound need to talk to herself so the audience isn’t caught in a silent movie. Inner monologues then become external dialogue when a serendipitous seagull, surrogating for Wilson the volleyball or what have you, joins Nancy on her rock with a broken wing to mirror her gangrenous leg. Conceits more convenient than clever, like anthropomorphic animals, are necessary evils for a movie to work as entertainment. Though when those cheats concurrently remind how fabricated the fiction is, becoming immersed in the plausibility of a plight isn’t an acceptable option.
Midway through act one, Nancy has a video phone call with family members to force down remaining exposition. This is one of those interactions where characters refer to each other by relationship instead of by name, specifically sister in this case, for the pure benefit of an audience understanding who is who. Dad then hijacks the siblings’ small talk to bring up Nancy’s possible abandonment of med school, killing two biography birds with one stone by contextualizing Nancy’s mindset while establishing why it won’t be out of the ordinary for her to later treat a shark bite or reset the gull’s wing.
Once Nancy’s blood chums the water, the pathway to the climax paves itself with blinding neon. No way is the heroine in fatal danger by the movie’s midpoint. But what about the unnamed surfing duo ignoring her warning of a shark in the sea? Or the unnamed drunkard interested in helping himself to Nancy’s belongings instead of helping her? Is mentioning that none of them make it a spoiler or just stating the obvious?
Painting nailbiter beats by their numbers and doing it well is effort enough when expectations are set for small screen standards. For a mainstream multiplex profile billed with an above-the-title star, it makes for mediocrity.
You can probably come up a good reason why someone should watch “Open Water” or “Deep Blue Sea.” You can definitely conjure any number of great reasons why someone should watch “Jaws.” Other than interest in the inoffensively nondescript screen presence of Blake Lively (Sam Worthington’s female counterpart), what warrants spending that time with “The Shallows” instead? Someone sweet on the film might have an answer. All I have is, “it’s fine, I guess.”
Review Score: 55