Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra | Written by Anthony Jaswinski | 86 min | Netflix | ▲▲▲△△
“Do we really need another shark movie?” I wondered as I walked into the cinema to see The Shallows. Probably not—even Jaws writer Peter Benchley at the end of his life advocated for shark conservation. But I’m happy to watch more white-knuckle tales of survival. All The Shallows really has in common with Jaws is the shark—it’s much more akin to 127 Hours or Gravity.
Blake Lively is Nancy, a Texan grieving for her recently deceased mother. Mom visited a remote spot in Mexico when she was pregnant back in 1991, so Nancy is on a pilgrimage to find it. She arrives at the pristine beach late on a gorgeous day and paddles out on her board. The set-up is all idealized surf-film vibe, including the more than gratuitous shots of Lively’s bikini-clad curves. But we know this is a horror movie because of the collection of awful-looking exorcism movie trailers assembled before it started.
Sure enough, an enormous Great White takes an interest in Nancy. The rest of the film is her stuck on the rock as the tide goes out and comes back in and we get a lot of underwater footage of her kicking gams.
The suspense is well sustained throughout, and even though there are some niggling plot issues—Nancy seems to lose pints of blood whenever she’s in the water, and why, exactly, is the shark so interested in her when it’s got an entire whale carcass to feast on?—this is a highly engaging stuff. It even has the class to cleave to the theme, one that connects Nancy to the spirit of her mother and gives her the strength to keep fighting the ferocious eating machine.
The real highlight here is Lively. The Gossip Girl regular has had a few chances to break out in pictures like Green Lantern, Savages, and last year’s The Age of Adeline, but she’s in every scene here and handily carries the picture. She makes us feel something …aside from teeth.