by Adam Riske
I would love to love the new shark horror movie The Shallows and many people do. Most are saying it is the best shark movie since the original Jaws. I’ll take Deep Blue Sea or Open Water over this one, but calling The Shallows the runner-up is not too much of a stretch. The problem is that Jaws casts such a big shadow over any other shark movie that it’s almost impossible to not compare its imitators to the Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic. Fair or unfair, pretty much everybody watching The Shallows has to have Jaws on their mind.
Blake Lively is front-and-center in The Shallows playing a surfer marooned in the shallow end of the ocean while being circled by a shark. That’s pretty much the plot of this movie. Some care is given to adding some emotional backstory to Lively’s character (her now-deceased mother surfed this same beach when she was pregnant with Lively) but the movie weirdly tries to parallel the mother’s fight with her illness with Blake Lively’s characters’ fight to survive the shark attack. They're two very different things and I think that’s why the emotion falls flat. If you have a terminal illness and you fight it, that’s brave. No question about that. If you decide that “No, I will not let this shark eat me,” that’s common sense. It’s not bravery to fight to survive a circling shark. What is your other option? Jump in the water and let something eat you alive? I don’t care how crazy you are, no one would choose that. Because the movie tries to work as a drama (many have compared The Shallows to 127 Hours) this presents a major problem. If the movie was steadfastly a thriller or horror movie it wouldn’t have this sense of flatness for me.
It’s not all bad, though. I liked Lively’s interplay with an injured seagull, who is also marooned on the rock she’s stuck on, but that’s maybe five minutes of the movie altogether. It’s memorable, but not enough to save The Shallows. I also thought Blake Lively’s performance (which is very physical) was really solid as well. She’s friendly and intelligent, which makes it easy to root for her. The actress hasn’t been this good in a film since The Town. Being a fan of director Jaume Collet-Serra, I feel bad that I was so let down by The Shallows. Not to pat myself on the back, but a lot of people have been sleeping on this guy and it feels like The Shallows is finally the movie where some are taking notice. He directed the House of Wax remake which is just ok but amazing at certain points (particularly the finale), Orphan which is a terrific and off-its-rocker horror movie and the super underrated action film Run All Night, the best of his three Liam Neeson movies. I think The Shallows is the Coke Zero version of this guy’s abilities. That aside, I hope this movie is a massive success for him and he keeps getting work. Underrated is a word created for filmmakers like Collet-Serra. He is a terrific technician with quirky sensibilities.