Rumor has it that for years after Die Hard premiered and completely shattered how the action genre was perceived both culturally and within the film industry, every action movie pitch for the next half a decade was “Die Hard in -*insert vague location and/or setting here* “. Fast forward a few decades later, andGravity has had a similar effect on the genre and the industry at large. So now we have “Gravity but on Mars (The Martian) or in the wilderness (The Revenant)!” Which brings us to The Shallows, which could be seen as Gravity, but set in the ocean. With the inclusion of a shark as the primary antagonist, one might assume that this film draws automatic comparisons to Jaws, but another film I’ve heard that this bears more kinship with is the 2004 thriller Open Water. But seeing as how I haven’t seen that, I’ll be ignoring it altogether for the purposes of this review and just focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of The Shallows within its own parameters.
The plot has… uh… Blake Lively, and she’s a surfer… and she’s on a beach near the ocean… and a shark is there too I guess… then stuff happens from there. But to be fair, for all there seems there isn’t to the plot, The Shallows does a decent enough job of keeping the pace up throughout the runtime and doesn’t overstay its welcome whilst clocking in at less than an hour and a half long. And like the aforementioned solo-survival flicks such as Die Hard or Gravity, the whole enterprise would fall pretty flat without a compelling lead performer – and fortunately Blake Lively in this film is more than up to this task. Over the course of her career, Lively has transcended being more than just a mere pretty face and has taken on a number of roles where she can really show off her acting chops (most notably in last year’s underrated The Age of Adeline). Additionally, the film maintains a fairly consistent tone of dread and suspense throughout, and because of its quick pace and short length, doesn’t ever really drag or contain any superfluous fluff to pad out the running time.
While I indicated beforehand that The Shallows is relatively short on the filler and keeps to its central plot-line all the way through, it does so perhaps to a fault. While Blake Lively’s central heroine is fully fleshed out as a three-dimensional character, nobody else in the film really registers as such. This isn’t necessarily a crucial part to the film, seeing as how it’s more or less a one person show, but most of the supporting players come across as broad character tropes rather than identifiable people who could’ve offered more insight and background to the protagonist, other than being a series of talking heads for her to play off of.
With this being a summer release from a major Hollywood studio, it should be expected that certain plot conveniences and contrivances might appear during the film in order to make the plot move along smoother and whatnot, which I fully accept… but do they have to be so distracting and avoidable? I can suspend my disbelief enough to ignore plenty of things, but when I’m constantly questioning why this shark would bother trying to eat Blake Lively of all people instead a rotting, defenseless whale carcass just a few clicks away, then it bears mentioning. Which is to say nothing of the occasionally dodgy CGI effects for the shark. I’ve tried to avoid bringing up Jaws as much as possible in this review, but there’s still a lot that film can teach us in terms of the whole “less is more” notion. Still relevant, even 40+ years later.
The Shallows is a perfectly serviceable midsummer diversion. It won’t change your life or anything, but it features a solid central performance by Blake Lively, and is ultimately good enough for what it is; you’ll most certainly get your money’s worth if you know what you’re getting into. It’s a refreshingly lean, small-scaled thrill ride in a summer season filled with overstuffed, bloated effects extravaganzas. And FYC Steven Seagull for Best Supporting Actor. Make it happen, Academy.