This shark thriller transposes the B-movie creature feature into the 21st century with style, delivering a slice of thrilling, bloody fun with the ability to impress and shock in equal measure.
The Shallows, directed by Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Sera (House of Wax, Orphan), sells a simple yet tantalising package of summertime entertainment: a beautiful surfer girl played by Blake Lively battles a great white shark on a secluded beach. Seemingly confident that the premise alone will drag in waves of bloodthirsty punters, the film is almost absurdly light on character development. We’re introduced to Lively’s Nancy and, as with any good B-movie, no dialogue is wasted in introducing her as a MEDICAL STUDENT visiting a Mexican beach frequented by her DEAD MOTHER to enjoy a spot of SURFING. This bare bones background is almost like a dating profile version of Nancy’s character, which is fitting as the film invests plenty of screen time in ensuring that you fall in love with/become consumed by jealousy of Blake Lively’s beach body. Armed with a spectacularly impractical cleavage-enhancing wetsuit she hits the waves, only to be interrupted by the eventual arrival of an enormous shark.
In the tension-building first act, Collet-Sera shows his ability to elevate The Shallows beyond its schlocky set-up. The film is cleverly shot: an eerie mix of gaudily colourful frames of crashing waves juxtaposed with the customary murky underneath shots of paddling legs. Imaginative use of first-person camera footage puts the viewer in the neoprene shoes of other surfers on the beach, which is almost unbearably uncomfortable given the terrors that you know lie beneath the azure waters. By the time the shark burst into the film, my shoulders were knotted and my lips bitten with anticipation.
Once the shark arrives, both the director and the star get to sink their teeth into their work. After an initial attack there is no sign of the beach’s airy colour palette or Lively’s unblemished beauty. The camera revels in every blow, scratch and bite that Nancy sustains, bringing the viewer a particularly gruelling close-up of an improvised suture involving a necklace and a pair of earrings. She is a MEDICAL STUDENT, remember. Now battered and bloody, Nancy is confined to a small rock, ever-shrinking with the rising tide and stalked by her fishy foe, whom she watches munch on her potential rescuers.
Simply put, The Shallows is phenomenal fun. Part slasher film, part survival thriller, it efficiently borrows from horror movie tropes without ever feeling derivative or boring. It is short, running at just 87 minutes, but thanks to Collet-Sera’s masterful balance of sheer terror and sheer silliness it whips you up in its simplistic premise and, when it reaches its utterly bonkers climax, spits you out on to the beach, panting and, in the case of every person in my screening, cheering. The Shallows may not alert the attention of the Academy, but it is a joyously entertaining ride and may well be a surprise hit this summer.
Words by Fraser Kay