The taut, tension filled, and well-paced film “The Shallows” was written for the screen by Anthony Jaswinski (Kristy), and directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Run All Night). The movie centers around a straightforward plot that in no way, at least for me, hampered my enjoyment of the film. Nancy is a medical school dropout, portrayed by Blake Lively (Gossip Girl). She has traveled from her home in Texas with a friend, to spend time at a beach in Mexico that is primarily known only to the locals. The beach holds significance for Nancy, and is not just an exotic spot for her to go surf boarding. Instead, it is a place her mother (Janelle Bailey), who has passed away from cancer, was fond of. Nancy shows pictures, that are on her iPhone, to Carlos (Óscar Jaenada), a man who is driving her to the location. The pictures are of her mother, standing on the same beach, taken years earlier, when she was pregnant with Nancy. The aforementioned friend, who accompanied Nancy on her trip, drank too much the evening before, and via text message, the viewer learns she will not be joining her at the beach; opting, instead, to hook up with one of the guys she met the previous evening. She also lets Nancy know that she shouldn’t wait up once she gets back from the beach. (As an aside: While the movie is supposed to take place in Mexico, parts of it were filmed off the Gold Coast of Australia, and the rest of it was completed in a swimming pool and water tank).
At first everything is serene as Nancy is surfing the waves. She strikes up a brief, but friendly conversation, with her limited Spanish, with two guys who are surfing and even gets to watch as a small group of dolphins swim peacefully past her out into the deeper part of the ocean. She comes back on shore after a while, and during the calm before the storm, talks to her father (Brett Cullen) and younger sister, Chloe (Sedona Legge) via video chat.
Nancy opts to go back into the water, for a bit more surfing. She is warned by the two guys, that it is getting late, and she should watch out for the tides, but she tells them she’s only going to be a little while longer. Nancy will soon regret her decision, and realize she should have heeded the advice she was offered. The catalyst, which sets the remainder of the film in motion, is the arrival of a large, dead, whale carcass, which has floated into her vicinity. The open, festering and bloody wounds on the whale’s body, attract a number of birds, as well as a great white, female shark. (As an aside: Jaume Collet Serra wanted the great white shark to be a female because they are a bit larger than male great whites. He also felt that the look of the female great white was scarier because it has scars from mating, and they are also more protective of their territory).
Nancy’s leg is badly injured, after an initial terrifying brush with the shark, although fortunately for her, her surfboard saved her from possibly being killed. She has one of only two recourses: to make it to a buoy, which given her distance and the shark’s proximity to her, she never would; or to situate herself on a small rock formation surrounded by coral and sharp edges. Nancy chooses the rock formation. Thanks to her medical school training, she is able, given the circumstances, to suture her wounds, using one of her earrings as the needle, and a piece of the material of her clothing as the stitching. She even talks her way through the process as if she were a doctor treating a patient. From that moment forward, Nancy must rely on her ingenuity and intelligence to survive her harrowing ordeal. The only company she has, which can’t help her to think up a plan of survival, is an injured seagull, that has a dislocated wing.
At one point, a drunken man (Diego Espejel), wakes up on the beach after hearing Nancy’s screams. Trusting in the good of people, she points him in the direction of her backpack. The man stumbles over to the backpack, and while rifling through it, discovers her money and cell-phone. Instead of helping Nancy, he proceeds to rob her. When he gets greedy and decides to go into the water to retrieve her surfboard, he gets more than he bargained for.
Was the drunkard Nancy’s last shot at being rescued? Will she somehow be able to make it back to shore before the carnivorous shark can make her its next victim? When Nancy’s friend returns to the hotel room the next morning and discovers she’s not there, does she alert the authorities? Will Nancy get rescued by an unexpected person? Does the shark eventually give up, and head back out to a deeper part of the sea? All of those questions and more will be answered by the conclusion of the film, which comprises the genres of drama, horror and thriller.
“The Shallows,” premiered on June 21, 2016 in New York City, New York. A good portion of the film is free of dialogue, which is replaced by sound effects, and the music composed by two time Oscar nominee Marco Beltrami. His score helps to advance the 86 minute film at a fairly brisk pace. Credit must also be given to cinematographer Flavio Martínez Labiano (Non-Stop), who does an excellent job of capturing the picturesque Australian locale, as well as giving a sense of isolation once Nancy is struggling to survive against the shark. I’ve read a number of reviews of the film that have compared and contrasted “The Shallows” with Oscar winner, Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws;” I had no interest in doing that. “Jaws” is the mold for the shark attack films, and as such, anything that comes after it, at least up until the moment I am writing this review, is not going to be able to overtake it. I think Lively gave her all to the role and comes across as a believable character. Furthermore, I was never for one moment bored with “The Shallows,” and, for at least a one-time viewing, found it entertaining, considering I didn’t know how it would unfold.