The Shallows (2016)

Written by in_the_crease on March 22, 2017

As a shark fanatic (thanks, Jaws), I was excited to see The Shallows. When I first saw the trailer, I thought the concept--more 127 Hours than Jaws--was interesting: A single person, alone on a rock, trapped a mere 100 or so yards offshore, in shark-infested waters.

Most shark movies follow the Jaws formula to a T: Shark attacks a bather, someone in position of authority decides something must be done and the beaches should be closed, someone of higher authority thwarts that attempt, more people die, our hero finally has to confront the monster.

But The Shallows produced a new and fresh take on the same old fish tale. The first half of the movie is similar to Open Water, relying on tension and little fanfare. Then, the shark explodes onto the screen for a few moments, and the movie suddenly becomes a high octane thriller. Basically, though the shark is the main antagonist of this story, all the scenes with the shark in them are much less interesting. I was more engaged with Blake Lively and that damn seagull. She was likable, and I bought into the survival story and was really rooting for her.

There were moments, when The Shallows relied on suspense, that the film become Hitchcockian in tone. We know the shark is out there, but we can't see him. The second we do, the suspense dies instantly. Parts of the movie were small and intimate, much like an independent film. And those were the strengths.

But it almost feels as if the director wanted to do a mash up of a simple suspenseful stalking movie, combined with elements of a survival movie. And again, all that worked for me.

But the sensationalism of the shark stuff was over the top in my opinion. It gave the movie an uneven feel. It was, at times, both a suspenseful stalker type movie with survivalism thrown in, and, then, seemingly out of nowhere, it became an over-the-top summer blockbuster type movie.

It gives it the look of a movie where director and producer didn't see eye to eye. It really seems like the shark action sequences were forced into the movie. They just didn't fit the overall tone. That's this movie's biggest downfall. Yes, the shark has to be there, yes he has to be dangerous. But the way it is presented through the film needs to fit the overall tone of the movie. At one point, the shark eats three people in the course of-- what?--an hour or so? So what was set up, was a small movie. An intimate movie. Something closer to The Blair Witch Project or Open Water, but what we got in the end, was something closer to Friday the 13th.

This movie could have been so much more, by being so much less. Excess is not always best.

In all fairness, The Shallows could have been much worse too. The things that did work, worked well--well enough that with some inventive direction, could have carried the film by themselves. But alas, the over the top violence and sensationalism trumped suspense and creative storytelling, which downgrades The Shallows from something special and unique, to just a "good" movie.

The locations were beautiful, and seeing them in 4K HD on a huge screen was quite impressive.