As rewarding and fulfilling as films with complex themes and lofty ideas can be, sometimes one that is short, sweet and unapologetically to-the-point can be just what the doctor ordered. As one of the surprise hits of the summer The Shallows is certainly a film that ticks all of those boxes, with its modest 86-minute runtime serving as a entertaining and thrilling slice of cinema that’ll leave its viewer on the edge of their seat.
The film stars Blake Lively as Nancy, a medical student still reeling from the loss of her mother, who seeks out a secluded Mexican beach for some much-needed solitude and the chance to catch some waves. Whilst there are a small handful of supporting characters that feature this is undoubtedly a one-woman show, and Lively more than lives up to her billing. She brings to the role both a vulnerability and determination that makes her a likeable character who’s easy to root for, and she capably carries the film throughout by doing stellar work both in the faster paced, high octane moments and during the quieter scenes where her character can reflect on her situation.
Pleasingly, Lively also benefits from a script that manages to deliver just the right amount of exposition and backstory, with the trauma of her recent past making her a more sympathetic character without devolving the film into an overly melodramatic or gushy affair in the process. As a rather straightforward story of survival the film doesn’t need to have 12 Angry Men-levels of dialogue or character development, but so often with films that have a B movie feel they can suffer from dreadful and cringe-inducing characterisation that makes them difficult to take seriously. The Shallows is undoubtedly meant to be an entertaining and easy to enjoy romp, but the fact that it doesn’t neglect its character-driven moments makes it a thoroughly more engaging experience as a result.
Unlike other post-Jaws shark films such as Open Water, The Shallows is also not a film afraid to to visualise the threat its protagonist faces, scoffing at the notion that it’s what you can’t see that is the most terrifying. It certainly bides its time before showing its hand, allowing tension to build as an attack feels increasingly imminent, but once the stakes are established it shows the Great White in all of its monstrous glory. The result is a pulsating final third act that is all-action, and whilst during its climax it all starts to get a bit silly as the film’s CGI budget is stretched to its limit, a more reserved and slower-paced finale would not have felt appropriate.
Unlike most of its action, The Shallows is not a film with an awful lot going on beneath the surface, but as it achieves its purpose with a great deal of style and competency it doesn’t need to do anything more. 2016 has been a disappointing year for big-budget popcorn movies but The Shallows is still flying the flag, simply by doing the basics right.