Devastated by the loss of her mother, a promising young medical student, Nancy (Blake Lively), travels to a beautiful secluded Mexican beach in search of solace. Upon her arrival, she meets a couple of local surfers and immediately hits the waves. Later on, and now alone, Nancy continues her psychological recuperation despite the dangers of surfing in isolation. Before you can say "reverse dolly zoom", suddenly a great white shark appears attacking Nancy. Stranded alone in the middle of the beach, 200 yards from shore, with only a giant rock as sanctuary (and a seagull for an ally), the terrified young woman must use all her resourcefulness in order to survive a battle of wits with a ferocious predator that has smelled (and tasted) the scent of blood.
Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra is a latter day version of a John Badham, Peter Hyams or Roger Donaldson (and, dare I say it, maybe even a Renny Harlin). Unlikely to court the attention of the Academy, Collet-Serra however most definitely knows how to make an exciting, enthralling B-picture. Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night and Orphan are testament to that. Taking a break from working with his favourite craggy faced actor, Liam Neeson - the director and star are well on their way to being the Scorsese & De Niro of throwaway action thrillers, with their next joint venture The Commuter set for release in 2018 - this time Collet-Serra teams with the infinitely more photogenic Blake Lively to tackle the sub-genre of the "shark movie."
Lively is an actress who finally seems to be getting some overdue recognition by way of leading parts. Possibly hamstrung by her striking looks, Lively's double whammy of The Shallows and Age of Adaline perfectly demonstrates her qualities as an actress in vastly contrasting roles. The former is essentially a cat and mouse two hander of girl versus shark, and Lively is never less than convincing as our plucky heroine. I would put her up there with Mary Elizabeth Winstead as slightly unsung actresses who are not on Hollywood's so called "A List."
Whenever a new film appears centred on the premise of a shark(s) munching on humans, inevitable lazy comparisons will be made with a certain seventies blockbuster made by a certain bearded director. The Shallows is not much like that movie at all. Nor is it another Deep Blue Sea (the intelligence of the shark aside). Reading some shark thriller film reviews, it possibly has more in common with The Reef and Open Water - both of which are rated highly, although I don't recall having watched either (note to self to remedy that in the future). However, another picture it is reminiscent of is Danny Boyle's 127 Hours. Both films feature a protagonist going off on a solo adventure, getting themselves trapped like that song by The Rolling Stones, becoming severely injured in one form or another, and needing to muster all their survival instincts in order to make it back alive.
One of the running themes prevalent in Collet-Serra's films is that the narrative tends to take turns that cause plausibility to be stretchier than a porn star's undergarment. There is often some sort of plot development(s) that is either completely preposterous or very clever depending on your acceptance threshold. This is especially true of Non-Stop and Unknown. Actually, there is nothing in The Shallows that quite approaches the degree of contrivance from his previous films, save for an antagonist that is not too far off sharing similar shark DNA with the AI enhanced predators from the aforementioned Deep Blue Sea! Although the Great White seems to become increasingly resourceful in finding ways to get at its prey, it doesn't detract from Collet-Serra's ability to create nerve shredding tension with each subsequent precarious situation. Special mention also to the stunning photography, with its beautiful wide open vistas and water bound shots, also reminiscent of another Danny Boyle film: The Beach.
The Shallows is a supremely efficient survival thriller that doesn't have an ounce of fat in its ninety minute running time. Jaume Collet-Serra has proven he is one of the best in the business at doing this sort of thing, and he's particularly in his element here. I'd go as far as saying The Shallows is a notch above his recent films, and less superficial than the likes of Non-Stop or Unknown.