Saturday, 7 September 2019

Movie Review: The Shallows (2016)


A survival horror film, The Shallows pits one brave woman against one angry shark in a tense battle of endurance.

Still grieving the loss of her mother to cancer, Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) vacations in Mexico on her own and considers quitting medical school. She heads out to surf at an isolated beach that used to be her mother's favourite. Towards the end of the day Nancy is attacked by a huge great white shark when she inadvertently gets between the predator and its dinner in the form of a whale carcass.

The attack destroys her surfboard and causes a deep gash in her thigh. Nancy takes refuge on a small rock outcrop a few hundred metres from shore, and does all she can to stem the bleeding. The shark never stops circling, and as Nancy's calls for help go unheeded her situation grows ever more desperate.

Following in the footsteps of recent one-person survival dramas like Buried and 127 Hours (both from 2010), The Shallows preys on the fearsome reputation of sharks as ruthless killing machines. But here at least director Jaume Collet-Serra and writer Anthony Jaswinski attempt to provide some justification for fish aggression by having Nancy interfere with dinner plans, and also revealing that the shark is carrying a wound, and was therefore maybe attacked first by another human.

Regardless of the motive, this shark is a relentless hunter, willing to outwait Nancy and unleashing a variety of attacks to try and knock her into the water. Nancy finds herself stranded on a tiny rock island that only gets smaller during high tide, tantalizingly close to the shore but far enough to make any attempt to outswim the shark impossible.

With only a perky but injured seagull as a companion, Nancy has few resources at her disposal, and has to improvise using her jewelry and surf top to stabilize her wounds in a couple of gory and pain-filled scenes. Otherwise the film settles down in its second half to a fairly routine survival conundrum, Nancy gradually coming to the realization she will not be rescued and will need to conjure up her own escape plan. In the meantime, relatively undefined tertiary characters fall victim to the shark to keep the tension and horror elements on high.

A backstory helps, as the opening scenes sketch in Nancy's gloomy emotional state. She is questioning the wisdom of pursuing a career in medicine after the difficult death of her mother, a tragedy that has also cast a pall on her relationship with her father. Whether or not to fight ferociously for life like her mom did in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds becomes a useful if somewhat obvious hook for the film's climax.

In a physically demanding performance Blake Lively throws herself into the role and capably carries the drama on her shoulders. Collet-Serra deploys a combination of location and water tank shots plus decent CGI (the shark is entirely digital) and some gorgeous cinematography courtesy of Flavio Labiano to create a wet prison around her. The water may be shallow, but for this stranded woman the murderous rage of one rogue shark runs deep.






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