By Reid Ramsey (June 25, 2016)
With a tight running time of 87 minutes, “The Shallows” taps into what is truly terrifying about the ocean. Miles of translucent blue waves, rip currents, jellyfish, blood in the water, and of course, sharks. Director Jaume Collet-Serra recognizes the elements and exploits them in a way only a good genre director could. During the exposition (which at times feels like a YouTube surfing video), he smartly plays house music while showing the surfers and every once in a while the camera dips underwater, the music drowns out, and an ominous score kicks in for a moment until the camera returns to the surface.
Blake Lively plays Nancy, a med-school-dropout reeling from the death of her mother. Even with the impressive direction of Collet-Serra, “The Shallows simply could not work without Blake Lively. She carries the entire production on her shoulders (something men are usually rewarded for come Oscar time, looking at you James Franco). Lively brings an unnecessary but impressive humanity that elevates the film over the normal quality of a shark slasher flick.
“The Shallows” also never flaunts its below-the-surface feminism. It is not a feminist film because it isn’t trying to be one. However, the quiet empowerment and embrace of a strong female character who is capable of surviving makes “The Shallows” one of the more empowering recent films.
I cannot help but feel like this film’s main problems come from it being a commercial endeavor. Collet-Serra makes plenty of smart choices when building tension and developing Nancy’s character, but he, alongside the screenplay, make plenty of bad choices too. A few cheap jump scares and moments of bad CGI are mostly forgivable, although those certainly keep “The Shallows” from being great. The purposefully emotional beats, involving Nancy’s conversations with her dad and an unbelievably horrendous epilogue, maybe make it more palatable for a general audience, but they also pull the film away from being one of the best genre films of the year.
That being said, it works best during the tension and shark attacks, and when it works, “The Shallows” is one of the best genre movies of the year. Incredibly effective and presumptive of the audience's fear of the ocean, it is a movie that does not go in one ear and out the other. And it’ll make you stay out of the water as much as “Finding Dory” made you want to jump in the water last week.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.
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