Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Blake Lively, a great white shark and a seagull
Running Time: 86 minutes
Release Date: August 12th
Brand Shark has taken quite a beating over the past while. After years of slumming it in the Sharknado franchise, jobbing to the likes of Ian Ziering, Tara Reid and David Hasselhoff, its stock has never been lower. The sight of a weathered fin in the water or those infinite black void eyes has become a punchline, paving the way for land-based animals like that bear from The Revenant to grab all the press.
For shark enthusiasts, their return to the top of the cinematic food chain has been long coming. The most terrifying thing about them and the movies about them, has always been about confronting something outside of your comfort zone, in the vast expanse and unknown of the ocean; simply put, we’ve got no business in the water. Stranded at sea, where we don’t belong, with a dead-eyed killer circling will always encapsulate dread in its most pure form. Come back to me once you’ve had a dust-up with a grizzly in a spacesuit outside the Earth’s atmosphere, Leo.
The Shallows, the latest from regular Liam Neeson collaborator Jaume Collet-Serra, seeks to make sharks feared again and remind us all to stay well clear of the ocean. After her mother passes from a battle with cancer, medical student Nancy travels to a beach in Mexico to surf, following a tradition her mother started while pregnant. Unnamed and isolated, it’s inhabited only by two surfer bros, one conveniently equipped with a GoPro (because found footage); a festering, dead humpback whale; and a great white shark who’s not so interested in the readily available blubber buffet floating freely, but is all about surfer chick morsels.
Spielberg’s shark attack movie became the text for modern thrillers, leaving an unobtainable bar to clear for anyone following into the water. Renny Harlin understood this with Deep Blue Sea, he knew he didn’t have Spielberg’s craft for suspense, but what he did have was sharks that swam backwards and Samuel L. Jackson delivering an all-time monologue about ice before being munched on by a genetically modified 30ft mako. He embraced the B-movie nature of sharks and was all the better for it. The Shallows’ issue is that it takes itself way too seriously. Sure, Blake Lively tells a shark to ‘fuck off’ and there’s a seagull named after Steven Seagal (slow clap), but this is also a movie that works very hard to link Nancy’s skirmish with the sea’s apex predator and her mother’s fight with cancer.
Characterisation is either abhorrently lazy (concerned dad on FaceTime and chipper younger sister who thinks big sis is super awesome) or just downright offensive. One Mexican character is a greatest hits of the ugliest Trump-approved stereotypes, a bloated drunk who passes out on beaches, watches a woman scream for help and then steals her phone. Nancy is a bit more well rounded, and Lively somewhat excels in the person-acting-extraordinarily-calm-in-an-extraordinary-situation, but when an injured seagull gets the lion’s share of the narrative arcs and laughter, you’re destined to sink.
A lot of this would be excusable if they just let a shark eat, but again, by pitching ‘Blake Lively fights a great white’, and not filling out the movie with a supporting cast you lose the most enjoyable part of something like this — mainly, chum to be offered up to the stalking white death in increasingly creative and grotesque ways. It has all the trappings to be a gruelling survival horror or a so-bad-it’s-good schlockfest, but sadly lacks the bite to be either.