Recovering from a traumatic event, medical student/expert surfer Nancy (Blake Lively) heads to a legendary secluded beach in Mexico for some board-based therapy. Little does she know that in the water lurks a creature that will test her mettle to the limit.
A surfer in a bikini battles a shark: it sounds like something a coked-up Hollywood exec would come up with five minutes before a meeting. Yet The Shallows turns out to be a perfectly decent piece of Friday-night survival-horror hokum, with a few clever wrinkles.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra gives the film an arty sheen: there are some nifty visuals, including text messages that pop up in mid-air and an early, dread-inducing glimpse of the killer fish via silhouette as it glides through a wave on which the heroine is surfing. Blake Lively, too, is on excellent form as said heroine, Nancy, coming equipped with a tragic backstory that gives the movie a trifle more depth than, say, Deep Blue Sea. Unlike that unabashedly stupid Renny Harlin classic, this tries to establish its set-up with at least a smidgeon of verisimilitude, providing a reason for the shark to stay in the vicinity in the form of a bloated whale carcass.
Blake Lively is on excellent form: it's essentially a one-woman show.
The build-up, unfortunately, is better than the pay-off. As Nancy gets stranded on a rock and tries to figure out a safe route back to land, it slides into over-caffeinated action hokum, with a fairly unconvincing CG beast. As Jaws proved, movie monsters are often more terrifying when they’re kept off-screen; here the action comes perilously close at times to veering into Sharknado territory, especially when the film throws a GoPro camera into the fray, presumably just so we can experience a few minutes of jittery found-footage fright.
While supporting characters flit in and out, via the nearby beach, it’s essentially a one-woman show. Props need to be given, however, to the seagull Nancy befriends. Given its own character arc and hero moment, it gives one of the most remarkable avian performances in cinema history; no wonder Nancy dubs it “Steven Seagull”. Surely it’s only a matter of time before we get a bird-only remake of Under Siege.
It’s an energetic survival thriller and terrific showcase for Lively’s chops, but iffy plotting and a sloppy climax detract from the terror.