Movie Review: 'The Shallows' (2016)

“Open Water” meets “Jaws” in this exciting, if wobbly, guilty pleasure. Blake Lively plays Nancy, a grieving medical school student, mourning the recent loss of her mother. Looking to connect with her mother’s memory, Nancy journeys to her mother’s favorite spot on earth, a secluded slice of island paradise. Is there any other kind?

Having gone there alone because her friend is unable to join her, Nancy insists she will be fine at the beach unaccompanied, especially when she spots two guys surfing nearby. If you are already getting the sense this was a bad decision, you are further ahead in your logical thinking than poor Nancy.

Even though the men eventually leave, Nancy stays behind to soak up the sun, and enjoy more of the surf. With dusk upon her, she decides to paddle past the shallows to catch her final wave.

It is there she encounters and is attacked by a great white shark. Remarkably, Nancy is able to get away and takes refuge on a small patch of terrain, 200 yards from the shore.

The shark circles, ready to strike at any moment. As Nancy tries to gather her wits about her, she is confronted with the fight of her life. Stranded within view of the shore, she will have to devise a plan to survive an opponent bigger, faster, and stronger than she is.

“The Shallows” shares its stranded protagonist storyline with the cult film, “Open Water.” A film that’s terror is more sturdily built than “The Shallows,” which is due in large part to its documentary-style approach.

“The Shallows” breaks with reality early on. As the apparent use of CGI immediately reduces the palatable threat, the great white shark poses. What a difference 40+ years can make.

Instead of using ultra-realistic puppetry to conjure the visual terror of a great white shark, circling its prey, “The Shallows” relies on CGI. The difference is remarkable. While “Jaws” has withstood the test of time, the same will more than likely not be said for “The Shallows,” which is a shame because the performance of its lead actress, Blake Lively, deserves to be remembered.

[Image by Columbia Pictures]
Were it not for Lively’s electrifying performance as the likable and bright Nancy, “The Shallows” would have been sent adrift, early on. No matter the lack of tension that frequently consumes the film, Lively keeps the film’s momentum going.

She shoulders “The Shallows” with a poise that alludes to even more excellent performances to come from the actress. Conveying pain is one of acting’s trickier hurdles, and she sticks the landing, brilliantly.

Unlike “Open Water” and “Jaws,” “The Shallows” is never able to establish the belief that doom actually awaits Lively’s heroine. While it is a precarious situation, it lacks the danger, ruthlessly exuded by similar films.

Like those mentioned above, “Open Water” or its phenomenal sequel “Open Water 2: Adrift,” and their environmental counterparts. The snowy scare-fest “Frozen,” the visceral disturbance of “Backcountry,” and the scarcely seen gem “The Truth Below” all favor a sense of realistic dread that “The Shallows” fails to muster.

The deus ex machina that eventually concludes “The Shallows” is its most significant flaw. It is a fantastical beat that could have been forgiven, had the lead-up not been tinged with such substantial strides towards realism. While “The Shallows” treads water as a thriller, it provides a swimming showcase for its star. Rating: 6/10

[Featured Image by Columbia Pictures]