The trouble with the one person survivor sub genre is there isn’t a hell of a lot you can say about it in a review without giving the game away. Robert Redford in All is Lost is all very well and good but the only thing of note in any of the reviews anyone can ever say is that he only says one word. I won’t tell you what that word is so there is some suspense there if you ever watch it, but I will say it rhymes with “luck” and it isn’t anything to do with ducks. At least Robert Redford had a boat, and Sandra Bullock had two space stations and various escape capsules in Gravity. In The Shallows Blake Lively has a rock, and a small one at that.
Surfing by herself at some obscure beach in Mexico (where her mother had been with her when she was in her womb) Blake inadvertently finds herself the prey of a great white shark after she accidentally gets too near to its feeding ground. As the tide goes out she finds herself trapped on a small rock that will sooner or later disappear when the tide comes back in. Simplicity itself.
Its understandable what most have drawn Lively to this project. This may be within the much maligned and rarely awarded horror genre but at least we have a rounded, self sufficient female character who doesn’t rely on men to save her. Horror is a funny old beast, on the one hand it will put women through some truly awful scenarios but on the flip side it gives us some of the most interesting and resourceful female characters in cinema.
These kind of films live or die on the ability of the lead actor. Fortunately Blake Lively has the charisma to pull it off. It helps she also looks like someone who’s been surfing all their lives, rather than, say, me who given a surf board looks like a drowning rat. Lively early on suffers a terrible bite and has to fix herself up. Fortunately we’ve been told that she’s a trainee doctor (damnit this girl can do it ALL) and can patch herself together. These scenes of survival are, weirdly enough, as compelling as when she’s battling against the great white. Maybe its because the wound looks so realistic, some of the best wound make up effects you’ll see.
That’s not the only thing that looks good though. The camera work is absolutely astounding, especially the underwater footage when Lively is surfing the crest of a wave and we see the views from below – the wake in the water an almost abstract stream of patterns tearing across the silver screen. Director Jaume Collet-Serra and cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano really have gone to town in making this one location as strikingly beautiful as possible from the underwater action to the stunning skylines. Also the cgi shark is top notch, his size and menace just shown enough to make him a threat and not a Sharknado joke or whatever that old shit is.
I’m not that keen on, the admittedly super slick looking, phone call pop ups on screen that happen early on, but they at least they get the exposition across without too much hokey dialogue. For example, we get to find out Lively’s mother has died – a simple photo on Lively’s phone of her with a scarf covering her bald head. This kind of technology on screen thing is a bit distracting, especially considering the remoteness from the modern world of this location but its not a deal breaker.
Okay, anyone who makes a killer shark movie has to accept that they are never going to make a better one than Steven Spielberg’s original and best. Its just not possible. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t give it a go, sharks are such simple and single-minded creatures of death that they make for a fantastic visual villain. The Shallows is simplicity itself but its entertaining and fairly tense simplicity, and I still found myself punching the air here and there, although that might have been the fleas.
Someone who didn’t appreciate The Shallows quite as much as me was Phyllis the Pug who watched it intensely on my lap. She had no problem with a giant shark munching down on various Mexicans and a Hollywood starlet, but for some reason she got furious with a small seagull with a broken wing (which is stuck on the rock with Lively). This poor injured bird greatly infuriated Phyllis and she seemed to want it dead. I feel she was missing the point of the film, or maybe she knew better. Surely we’re not meant to be on the side of the shark?