The Shallows

 

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Just 200 yards from the beach a lone surfer finds herself in peril in this efficient slice of exploitation.

 

Shallows, The
  

Let’s get one thing straight. It has been estimated that one hundred million sharks are killed every year by humans. And that’s a conservative figure. Detailed analysis has revealed that either directly or indirectly we are responsible for the deaths of 11,417 of the fish every hour. However, there is the occasional shark that strikes back, although for the most part they don’t view humans as a food source. And on even rarer occasions, just as there are in many species (including humans), there will be a shark who will hunt to kill just for the hell of it.

 

Jaume Collet-Serra's new thriller is an exploitationer in every sense of the word. It starts out like a high-end commercial for Blake Lively’s bottom, complete with fast cutting and slow motion. And the beach on which she alights looks like something straight out of a rum advert. “This is Paradise,” her driver tells her, before taking off and leaving her all alone. She is Nancy, a mature medical student coming to terms with the death of her mother. So she arrives at the beach in Mexico that her mother held dear, a step towards coming closer to the woman she now misses so much. Alone Nancy may be, but she’s guided by a spirit stronger than the tide – her mother was a fighter to the end.

 

Much of the film’s exposition is revealed through some brief exchanges on Nancy’s phone, before she packs up her things and heads for the surf. Like much of Collet-Serra's film – and Anthony Jaswinski's screenplay – it is a skilful, economic device. Collet-Serra has made his name with clomping Liam Neeson actioners (Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night), but he’s shown his efficiency as a top-grade B-movie director. And here he excels himself. His ace card is getting Blake Lively to peel off and occupy almost every frame of his film. She conveys an intelligence beyond the contours of her bikini and deftly establishes a character that can obviously look after herself. And because the actress makes Nancy real, what befalls her becomes almost unbearable to behold. We feel her fear, her pain, her cold, her weakness – with only adrenalin and her mother’s fighting spirit left to sustain her. It’s virtually a one-woman show, although a wounded seagull – whom she christens Steven – is a welcome support act. Collet-Serra also displays an accomplished ear, allowing the sound of the sea to have as much an effect on Nancy’s dire reality as Marco Beltrami's score.

 

As a thriller, then, The Shallows is one of the most gripping of the year. It’s certainly scarier than all the haunted house films Hollywood has doled out of late. But then people really do go swimming in the sea…

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen.

 

Dir Jaume Collet-Serra, Pro Lynn Harris and Matti Leshem, Screenplay Anthony Jaswinski, Ph Flavio Labiano, Pro Des Hugh Bateup, Ed Joel Negron, Music Marco Beltrami, Costumes Kym Barrett.

 

Ombra Films/Weimaraner Republic Pictures-Sony Pictures.

86 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 12 August 2016. Cert. 15.