Movie review: ‘The Shallows’ features great individual performance
–There are a lot of common tropes when it comes to types of stories. There’s stories of people versus other people, people versus themselves and people versus nature. It’s the latter of those that often delivers some of the most gritty and fascinating stories.
In 1975, Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” became what some consider the first summer blockbuster. It was about people battling nature — in this case a killer shark — on a small island near the Fourth of July. Forty-one years later we get a film that’s similar in tone that is one of the best films I’ve seen this summer.
“The Shallows,” which debuted on June 26, doesn’t look like much on the surface. It’s about a woman (Blake Lively) that has an encounter with a shark near a remote beach in Mexico. But it’s the way the film is told — and the fantastic lead performance — that keeps you hooked.
The film centers on Nancy (Lively), a medical student who is feeling lost after losing her mother. She travels to Mexico and finds a remote beach that’s so secret the locals won’t ever tell her its name. But she finds it to connect with her mother, who had been there years earlier.
Nancy is enjoying a wonderful day of surfing and reflecting. Soon she’s alone in the water as the day begins to fade. That’s when the trouble begins. She encounters a large shark, and what was once a day at the beach turns into a fight for survival.
By now we’ve seen plenty of shark movies, and none have them have compared to “Jaws,” which set the standard for the genre and is an all time classic. I’m not putting “The Shallows” on that level — yet — but it was a much more engrossing and dynamic film than I expected.
And that is mostly due to Lively. While she’s best known for softer roles in movies like “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and TV shows like “Gossip Girl,” Lively gives an intense and gritty performance here. It’s not an exaggeration to say she carries the film, as she’s one of the few named characters, one of the few with speaking lines, and the only actor who is in the whole movie.
Much like Tom Hanks in “Cast Away,” Lively spends a bulk of the film by herself. Her only “co-star” is a wounded seagull. Yet she makes the film come alive. Her ability to express emotions and to create a real and grounded character is what elevates the film. You feel intense emotions throughout the 87 minutes, and that’s a credit to the character she’s built.
It’s also a credit to director Jaume Collet-Serra, who expertly sets the tone in the first act and then keeps the tension high as we continue through the second and third acts. The story goes in some unexpected directions at times, and it all works to tell a tight, compelling story.
I went into “The Shallows” expecting another summer shark movie. But what I got was an incredible portrait of struggle, determination and a will to live. That’s what has elevated it to one of the best films of the year so far.
“The Shallows” is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for bloody images, intense sequences of peril, and brief strong language.
Four stars out of four.