Hollywood has an interesting history with movies about sharks. Steven Spielberg pretty much nailed it so impossibly hard and expertly with Jaws in 1975, that it has been very difficult for any movie prominently featuring a shark to live up to that very high bar ever since. Many have tried, few have succeeded. But sharks are still scary, and people still buy tickets to movies that have sharks in them, so occasionally we will get a shark movie. This summer is one of those occasions, and this time it is former Gossip Girl Blake Lively who is at the mercy of nature's perfect killing machine in The Shallows.
Coming from Sony Pictures, this thriller centers almost entirely on Nancy (Blake Lively), who is in Mexico mourning the loss of her mother, who seems to have died of cancer based on a picture that Nancy looks at on her phone. It is also alluded to in an argument she has on the phone via a video chat with her dad, who is played by Brett Cullen. Nancy's mom was a surfer and once surfed on a specific, secret beach in Mexico, so she goes there to surf a bit and to honor her mother's legacy, or something like that. And then a really, really big shark shows up. Spoiler alert: the shark really throws a wrench in the spokes of what would otherwise have been a very nice day of surfing at the beach.
When the first trailer for The Shallows dropped, coming seemingly out of nowhere a couple of months ago, there was a bit of an interesting response. Some people couldn't seem to find enough exclamation marks on their respective keyboards to express their excitement, and others thought it looked like Open Water with a higher budget and a more bankable actress playing the not-so-helpless damsel in distress. I'm really not sure who is right, all I know is that the movie delivers on the promises that it made in the trailer; there is a killer shark, there is surfing, and the shark definitely isn't there to make friends.
Lively has stood out in some of the roles that she has taken over the years, like in The Town or her segment of New York, I love You, but she has never really had the chance to prove that she could carry a movie on her shoulders. It doesn't really matter if this is the movie some people wanted it to be or not, Lively definitely does a very great job and anything that doesn't work is not her fault. She mustn't be blamed for the fact that there isn't much to do on a rock located just far enough away from shore to make things complicated. There isn't a whole lot to say about the rest of the cast, because nobody else has enough screen time to make an impression, save for Oscar Jaenada, who plays a man named Carlos who serves as a bit of a mouthpiece to help with some exposition. Their exchange is charming and he is very likable, especially by the end of the movie.
The shark is convincingly cool and looks pretty great, most of the time anyway. The problem is that, for whatever reason, it isn't nearly as terrifying as Bruce the shark was in Jaws, and it doesn't quite feel real enough to make you think twice about going in the water. That may be good though, because it is summer and swimming is nice this time of year. There is an extreme lack of genuine tension, and except for a few jump scares and a few nameless actors who don't make it through the movie, because this is a big scary shark movie and some people have to die, there isn't a lot to it.
The beginning of The Shallows feels like a Fuel TV biopic about a hot surfer girl featuring very loud music, and once the initial great white shark attack happens, the movie honestly gets a little boring for a while. Some people may have been thinking "how can they make a movie long enough to be a movie when that girl is just sitting on a rock the whole time?" That is a legitimate question and I can tell you that it is a movie long enough to be a movie, but it involves a lot of Lively laying on a rock hanging out with a bird who can't leave because his wing is broken. But you kind of get the impression he definitely would have left if his wing worked properly. Sorry, Nancy.
The ending of the movie is definitely more tense and definitely a lot more action packed, and maybe a little ridiculous, but it sort of lands somewhere between silly and terrifying. Granted, many people will probably watch The Shallows and have a fun enough time, but it won't quite reach the podium of all-time great shark movies. On one end of the spectrum, there is the very serious, tense and brutal Jaws, which essentially invented the summer blockbuster and remains a masterclass in filmmaking. On the other end sits something like Deep Blue Sea, which is undeniably silly but unquestionably a ton of fun, and something of a cult classic, for good reason. The Shallows sits somewhat safely right in the middle. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but that also does sort of keep it from being great, one way or the other.
Ultimately, The Shallows will probably be a lot of fun for some people, and something very skippable for others. The trailers really do give away an awful lot of the movie, but there was really no way to avoid that from happening, as it is a pretty simple movie. At the end of the day, even if it is by default to some degree, The Shallows is definitely the best shark movie of the summer, for whatever that is worth. The Shallows is in theaters this Friday.