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In a summer season stuffed with bloated blockbusters and superhero sequels, Run All Night director Jaume Collet-Serra’s fast and furious shark thriller is a welcome breather. Then again, you’ll probably spend the majority of the film holding your breath because it’s so relentlessly tense. Before heading to the parking lot, maybe swim by the cinema that’s playing Finding Dory. This will not only lower your heart rate, but also reassure you that oceans aren’t literally the worst place on the planet to be.
As the title suggests, The Shallows is a barebones thriller in terms of story. You might even say it’s as underdressed as its protagonist, Nancy (commendably played with equal parts humour, terror, and action heroine by Blake Lively), who spends 95 per cent of the film in a bikini. To her credit, she manages to pull off several inventive wardrobe changes thanks to her MacGyver skills and a wetsuit jacket. Her frequent craftiness is somewhat validated by the fact that’s she’s a med school dropout.
This leads us to the film’s, ahem, stripped-down plot that sees Nancy travelling to a remote beach in Mexico to catch some gnarly waves and find herself after losing her mother to cancer. The reason for this specific destination is explained via cleverly inserted scanned Polaroid phone pics of Nancy’s late mother posing on the very same beach with her surfboard 25 years prior. After a brief chat with the dude driving her to the beach, a stylishly shot surf sesh with two friendly locals, and an awkward FaceChat with her little sis and widowed father, Nancy heads back to the ocean for once last wave. Bad move, Nancy.
From here on it’s basically Nancy vs. shark, as one of her legs is immediately chomped and she finds herself stranded on a small rock a couple hundred yards from the shore. This happen about 20 minutes into the film, so you’re probably wondering how The Shallows sustains its 87-minute running time. Aside from an overly fluky climax and an excessively saccharine coda, it actually does a bang-up job of keeping the audience on the edge of their seat as Nancy continually tries to outwit her predator. Bonus points to Collet-Serra and screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski for tossing in a few chuckles along the way.
In terms of shark-on-human carnage, The Shallows is relatively tame. There are several standout action sequences, jump-out-of-your-seat jolts, and a handful of casualties, but not much red stuff is shown. This rather effectively puts us in the position of Nancy, who obviously can’t see what’s happening underneath the water’s surface. If you’re looking for amusingly gratuitous shark attacks, watch Sharknado. If you’re looking for something a little classier, but still sufficiently schlocky, The Shallows has got you covered.
That’s not to say this is a laidback film, it just chooses its shocks (and shark reveals) carefully. There’s one particularly cringe-inducing sequence in which Nancy uses her medical skills to suture up her gruesome gash with a pair of earrings and a necklace. In this instance and several others, she verbally coaches herself throughout the gruelling process. On a lighter note, Nancy also talks to a wounded seagull she adorably refers to as Steven Seagull. (Cute fact: her companion even gets an end credits shout-out as Sully “Steven” Seagull.)
Picture a cheesy amalgam of Gravity, 127 Hours and Castaway (Steven Seagull is basically Wilson), then feed it to the shark from Jaws, and you’ve got The Shallows. If that doesn’t sound like one of the summer’s guiltiest big screen pleasures, I don’t know what does.
The Shallows hunts theatres Friday, June 24. Sink your chompers into the trailer below.