Every sunny summer needs a good shark attack to keep it interesting, and it appears that this summer’s big fish story will take place in The Shallows. However, don’t be misled by the really big fish, though the Great White depicted here is quite believably menacing and convincingly capable of tearing a sizable hunk out of a very good-looking (human, female) leg and then circling for the kill with plenty of killer instinct.
The leg in question belongs to Blake Lively as Linda Adams, and there’s a great deal more to this survival-of-the-most-determined thriller than just pretty girl versus wicked shark. If you’re looking for romance or deeply insightful human relationships, The Shallows doesn’t go there, but chances are you won’t miss them at all because what the film does supply is bounteous beauty well mixed with serious suspense and even a bit of comic relief.
In brief, which is easy because there’s not much to it, the plot involves a Texas medical student (Linda) who lost her mother to cancer and who has decided to take a break from school and try to re-discover an almost mystical secluded beach where Mom used to surf. The opening scene has Linda being delivered to the perfect spot – somewhere in Mexico, though reportedly the filming was done near Queensland in Australia.
The cameras have a lot of gorgeous to work with and they do it very well indeed. Director Jaume Collet-Serra has used the most effective aspects of special effects to bring us one of nature’s most frightening creations along with some of her most beautiful work in terms of white sand beaches and limpid blue-green seas – no special effects required, just expert high-tech camera work. And then of course there’s Blake Lively, whose natural resources are generously displayed at just about all times.
Blake has a stand-in for the surfing shots, but for the close-ups it’s all Blake and very impressive. Not only is she able to project powerful emotions without a word, which is a feat not every actor/actress can manage, she can also bond with a seagull. In fact “Stephen Seagull” has gotten a lot of attention from reviewers, a few of them claiming he stole the show. Not quite, but he’s got a good supporting role.
Basically, the sequence is: supremely isolated seashore/cove where there’s nothing but sand, surf, sun and seagulls plus one surfer girl and two local board riders who figure very briefly before the shark shows up. Then it’s a genuinely suspense-filled 70-or-so minutes of girl versus shark as she’s stranded on a rock only a couple hundred yards from shore after leaving shreds of leg in the shark’s teeth.
The shark is programmed to eat to survive, but ultimately Linda is programmed to survive and not be eaten, so it’s a real Mexican standoff, so to speak. She’s able to stitch up her torn leg with her fortuitously handy earrings, and befriends the seagull who’s also stranded due to a close encounter with Great White. With the assistance of a derelict buoy and a huge rock that’s submerged at high tide, Linda/Blake shows incredible resilience and most of her body as she tries to evade attack and find a way to safety.
Only one burning question from this reviewer: how on Earth did they keep that bikini in place during all those action shots? Other than that, all questions will be answered as the film powers on to its surprising conclusion, and probably its surprising popularity with viewers and critics. Whatever your quibbles may be with plot or production, The Shallows is deep enough to be good entertainment.