Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
The sun’s out but so are the sharks. Excited? Likely not. You see, the problem facing these movies is similar to that which faces exorcism ones. That’s to say it’ll always be compared to another, much older, movie that set the template. Yet with his third foray into horror, director Collet-Serra gives us a slicker, if less involving, beast than Jaws.
Facing the dangers of the natural world is Nancy (Lively). Pipeline dialogue to a cabby, then to hologram faces of family over the phone, tells us she’s a medic school dropout with a dead mum and a reputation as the ‘sensible’ sister. However, to challenge this image she’s gone on a trip to Mexico and is hunting out the secret beach her dearly departed went to when pregnant with her. It’s a picturesque one too, that’ll likely have audience googling where it was filmed (Australia apparently). Alas, sadly her travel buddy has dropped out, due to hangover, so it’s up to her to make the most of it. She’s not alone though, with a few surfers, a scene-stealing seagull and a bloody massive shark around. Before too long she’s trapped on the carcass of a dead whale, floating and then marooned on a tiny island as her fearsome foe circles her.
This is more of an exercise in prolonged tension than the glitzy, slow-mo watersports trailer suggests (though I’d recommend missing that all together as, like our star’s bikini, it doesn’t leave much to the imagination). So it’s a fairly disciplined survival thriller instead of a big dumb monster film. That’s not to say there isn’t visual flair though – cue lots of montages, tasteful use of special effects and a hip soundtrack. Think a music video version of Castaway with a fin and tonnes of awkward male gaze. Luckily Lively is able to carry the film and, despite the aforementioned shoehorned exposition, manages to give her character some personality. She’s more tough, funny and resourceful than almost any other recent heroine I can think of. Thus we’re rooting for her on the rock with her as she nurses a cut leg, judges the tide and plans her exit strategy. Collet-Serra soaks up every last drop of suspense from the simple setup and innovative camera work. Crucially there’s some welcome comic beats along the way. And though bits and pieces of it seriously challenge credibility (a part involving fire comes to mind) it’s expertly paced and often edge of the seat.
Yet it’s also completely pointless. Though Lively makes us care about Nancy’s life it feels like it’s almost despite the film’s best efforts. What little character arc exists is laughably telegraphed, with an unintentionally hilarious line or two thrown in at the end to underline it. In addition, the introduction and prompt dispatch of other “characters” seems a cynical page taken from the book of 80’s slasher sequels when the studio didn’t trust the audience to pay attention. Really, the name gives reviewers the world over an open goal. Consequently, bits that ought to be emotionally involving (such as a Blair Witch style monologue) ultimately aren’t. Such an absence of character drama makes the fairly formulaic structure seem worse. It’s maybe possible to read into the literal rock and hard place premise as a laboured metaphor (with the seagull being mum and the shark being the dangers of the unknown etc.). Yet if it is then it’s not a well developed one. As weird as it sounds, the shark also has no observable motivation. It can’t just be hungry, since it has a big dead mammal nearby to chow down on (along with other surfers). It also isn’t territorial given that others say there’s no sharks around. This means it’s just a bit of an arsehole. Whether this is a problem for you or not comes down to how picky you are.
Nonetheless, all in all it’s not a bad way to pass time, even if it seems more there to be liked than loved. There’s many worse sealife films than this, yet Jaws and Orca wouldn’t cower from it. If you need to escape the sun then you could do far worse than give The Shallow a chance. Much like a booze cruise it’s enjoyable while it lasts. But you’re not going to remember much of it the next day.