Thursday, June 30, 2016

"The Shallows" Review

Director Jaume Collet-Serra is known for churning out solid, if often forgettable, action thrillers. Remember Run All Night and Non-Stop from a couple years ago? How about Unknown or House of Wax? Yep, all made by the same guy. Collet-Serra follows up Run All Night with The Shallows, a shark attack thriller starring Blake Lively (TV's Gossip Girl). While many, including this reviewer, found the trailers to be less than impressive for this movie, it turned out to be pretty good. Just goes to show that if you temper your expectations for something, you may walk away pleasantly surprised as I was leaving my screening for The Shallows.

The story follows Nancy (Lively), a medical school dropout and surfing enthusiast who's in a delicate emotional state following the death of her mother. To honor her memory, Nancy visits a secluded beach in Mexico to surf the same waves that her mom always talked about. At the end of a long day in the water, Nancy is attacked by a great white shark which leaves her injured and stranded on a small rock 200 yards from shore. Trapped for days with nothing but a rash guard and her will, Nancy enters into battle with the meanest, smartest fish since Jaws.

For all of its guilty pleasures and blatant shortcomings, The Shallows has been lauded as the greatest shark movie since Jaws. We could get into an entire debate on where the Sharknado films fall in that ranking, but intended comedies notwithstanding, The Shallows may very well be the best shark attack thriller since Jaws. Unfortunately, that isn't saying too much.

In some respects, The Shallows aspires to be this year's 127 Hours, but the script from Anthony Jaswinski (Vanishing on 7th Street) never quite reaches the narrative or emotional highs to be considered Oscar fodder. There just isn't enough below the surface (pun intended). That said, it's loaded with effective white-knuckle sequences and has a great score to boot. I squirmed in my chair at all the right moments even though it was never as suspenseful or as memorable as anything in Jaws.

Another reason why this film falls just short of greatness is that it just isn't as consistently directed as it needed to be. The first half of the film feels like an energy drink commercial while the second half becomes much more bleak as it embraces the horror elements of the story. I'm also not certain that the presentation is as subtle as it should be. Let me explain...

As a red-blooded male, I enjoy looking at Blake Lively as much as the next person, especially when she does such a tremendous job carrying the movie. The Age of Adaline proved to me that she could act and was more than just a beautiful face. The Shallows proves that she can carry a film entirely on her own. There were times, however, where I felt like I was watching a masochist snuff film. SPOILER ALERT: I'm not sure it's necessary to emphasize Lively's Bay Area "assets" as she's mauled by a shark and then again as she graphically tries to "stitch" herself back together. To be honest, I'm surprised they got away with a PG-13 rating based on the violence alone.

As I've said before, summer is the time of year where movies are best enjoyed at face value. The Shallows features a tremendous lead performance and has enough suspense to satisfy those looking for a good thriller that isn't a sequel, remake or part of a franchise. It lacks a deeper sense of purpose, which is why it probably won't be remembered in the years to come.

Bottom line is that I walked away from this movie the same way I did Collet-Serra's Non-Stop - cognizant of its flaws yet still elated that I saw it.


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