The Shallows is the latest film from Jaume Collet-Serra, director of films such as Unknown, Non-Stop and House of Wax. With its lead character played by the promising talent, Blake Lively, Collet-Serra moves away from his action and horror themes and expands into the realm of drama.
The opening scenes of the film open like any other thriller-style film, focusing on the prospect of isolation and loneliness. Nancy (played by Blake Lively) is abandoned by her friend on her trip to discover a mysterious beach in Mexico that her mother visited in 1991. She is taken to the beach by a Mexican local who refuses to provide the name of the beach.
When she arrives at the beach, she discovers two other surfers are at the beach and quickly joins them, discovering the thrill of the Mexican surf and experiences clear-blue waters. The combination of a slow opening build-up combined with the backing of Neon Jungle’s Trouble makes this difficult to get into but, when it does, it does it well.
Nancy is left alone in the sea when her two fellow surfers warn her that it’s getting dark. As she searches for that one last wave, the first glimpse of what awaits her in the sea is visible. A short distance from her surfboard is a dying whale, clearly crippled by a vicious attack from an unknown assailant. With the caw of seagulls and a setting sun, Nancy is gripped by a foreboding sense that she isn’t alone in the waters.
People will naturally make comparisons to Jaws. Both films feature heavily young female characters being assailed by a shark. Where Jaws and The Shallows differ is that the focus isn’t on the shark. It’s on the isolation. Collet-Serra leaves the lead character abandoned on a small rock and most of her challenges don’t come from a shark attack but from nature itself. She suffers from a risk of hypothermia as temperatures plummet during the night, gangrenous limbs from an infected wound and heat stroke.
The problem with the film is that it demands that the viewer suspends their disbelief. There is a convenience about the fact that she has medical training. There is a convenience about the fact that comes across two people who tell her about the tides and how the rock she is perched on disappears during the high tide. If the viewer is prepared to ignore those flaws, it becomes a blend of thrill and suspense. It is best described as Jaws meets 127 Hours as the shark represents the precursor to her isolation and abandonment in a country where Nancy barely speaks the language and quickly discovers that being alone isn’t quite what she hoped it might be.
It’s not a unique premise and doesn’t push the boat out in terms of ‘breaking the cinematic norm’ but it is enjoyable. As the end credits approach, the adrenaline levels begin to amp themselves up and Nancy’s discovery of her own internal determination as well as her character touches on the viewer.