Root For the Bird

The Shallows has to overcome its premise, previously edited to some perfection in the low budget 2003 shark flick Open Water. Shallows will decorate its lonesome killer fish/survivalist movie with some gloss and sharp cinematography; it looks gorgeous. Also, Blake Lively’s rather intense performance creates some credible tension before the film succumbs to numbing theatrics.

Credit to Anthony Jaswinski’s script for adequately pushing exposition in a sensible way. Blake Lively’s isolation requires a threadbare drip of information at the outset before setting her in the water to surf, set to be attacked and deserted as a shark swims near. Once pieces are in place, with scenery and situational awareness established for viewers, the toothy carnivore can make its move. Lively is left bleeding and stranded, sharing her thoughts with a flightless, wounded seagull. The bird takes shared refuge on the same rock formation. That seagull deserves an award too, convincingly staying in place for the duration of this quickie 80-minute feature.


While Blakey’s Nancy considers the circumstances, The Shallows has momentum. Convincing danger sits just out of camera view and hopelessness seeps in. An established med student background grants Shallows narrative leeway to keep Nancy healthy – significant blood loss occurs due to the shark’s bite. When silent, alone, and empty, Shallows is admirable. It’s the best of “single location” thrillers (e.g, Phone Booth, 2010’s ski lift horror Frozen) desperate and enthralling in a bid for survival.

When silent, alone, and empty, Shallows performs admirably.

Maybe it’s modern audience expectations, or decades of ever cornier shark movies that catches The Shallows in the wrong. Midway through, an ill-advised and implausibly gory death plays from a place of awkward comedy. Additional victims come later in a film better served by tension than exploitation. While such secluded screenwriting needs filler, The Shallows’ cheaply stimulating action never capitalizes in terms of flow. It’s bloodshed because contemporary viewers may consider the iconic restraint of Jaws dull.


This leads into a busy finish, concerned with prettying up visuals and casting Nancy as a hardcore shark hunting heroine. By the time the shark catches fire, Shallows’ credibility has passed. Special effects take over and typical great white behavior ceases to be typical in a feeding frenzy of sloppily composed action. Patient as Shallows is during the opening act, final moments fail the admirable set-up.

In its opening scene, Nancy thumbs through Instagram photos, shoving pictures of her past into the face of her driver. He stops her, asking Nancy to look at the life all around – they’re in gorgeous Australian country, after all. It’s Shallows at its peak texture. Given the events to come, those could be her final moments to appreciate things, a small but catching commentary. How appropriate then when stuffed in a theater with people still locked to their social media feeds, phones glowing and flickering as Shallows plays on the big screen. Those people missed the best Shallows had to offer, but by the end, they didn’t miss much.

The Shallows
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Blake Lively gives a superlative performance in The Shallows, and while effective, the movie loses its way in the search for bloodshed.

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