The Shallows (2016)
The Shallows is certainly the most contemporary film you’re going to see on my Bloody October list (and it probably wouldn’t be on here at all save for my roommate reminding me of its existence). The Shallows hit cinemas this past summer, shocking everyone by being a “decently scary shark” movie instead of a “Blake Lively in a bathing suit, with a shark” movie. And while it ain’t Jaws, I’d say that The Shallows is a damn enjoyable film.
The plot is lovely in its simplicity. Surfer-girl and medical student Nancy (Lively) goes to Mexico to decompress from the emotions following the death of her mother. Heading to a “secret beach,” she has a nice day of surfing and sun. But when she tries to catch her final wave back to shore, a shark knocks her from her surfboard and takes a bite out of her leg. Bleeding and succumbing to shock, Nancy manages to pull herself onto a jutting rock in the middle of the shallows. She’s trapped there, hunted by a shark with a taste for human flesh, with no rescue in sight.
The Shallows hits all the right notes for a menacing monster movie without banking on complicated twists or needless exposition. All of the necessary elements are introduced early on: Nancy goes to the beach alone because her sister was supposed to go with her and bailed at the last minute; her medical training is established long before it becomes a necessary plot point; the presence of fire corral and jellyfish, which will figure into her attempts at escape, are points clearly dropped in without making an issue out of them. The leanness of the plot means that the film can focus on the trials of Nancy, for awhile the only character on the screen.
Lively makes for a sympathetic protagonist, pulling The Shallows away from a gimmick-laden genre film to an honestly decent movie that understands its predictability and revels in it. Without descending to parody, the film manages to be tense and frightening. Neither Nancy nor the shark strain credulity with their abilities – the latter is just an animal looking for food, the former prey trying to escape. While the film does hint at some deeper meaning – Nancy questions what’s the point of fighting when it’s all going to end the same anyways – it thankfully shies away from giving too much importance to philosophical life lessons.
The weakest point of The Shallows is the CGI shark, which makes its appearance way too early and takes away some of the menace. One of the strengths of Jaws was not showing too much of an animatronic animal, allowing the unseen evil to suffice for horror. The Shallows’ shark appears several times, and at each appearance becomes less believable. It’s so obviously CGI that it dissipates the menace of an actual animal hunting an injured woman.
Despite a few shortcomings, The Shallows is an effective film, never trying to be more than it is. This is a movie about woman vs. shark, and it’s allowed to be just that.