Yes, this week is another three-fer. I was mildly interested in this movie when the trailer came out. Blake Lively rarely disappoints even if the movie she is in does (*stares at Green Lantern*). I also, if you know me, have a thing about the water. I love it. It’s one of the few things that bring me peace in this world. So without anything else to do tonight, I decided to go to the movies again and check this out. You know you go to a theatre a lot when one of the ushers asks “What show tonight?” then asks for a review after…
So should you avoid the Shallows?
This review is going to pose a challenge. How do I write in depth about a very basic premise with a limited cast, limited shooting locations, and also avoid spoilers on something that is intended to drive tension? Well, lets try talking about the behind the scenes as usual. Written by Anthony Jaswinski, who is behind the very under rated The Vanishing on 7th street and Kristy (which I am watching as I write) – in other words he is a horror writer. The director is Jaume Collet-Sera, who directed 2005’s House of Wax and 2009’s Orphan, both of which were actually not that bad. Sadly, he also directed the Liam Neeson plane ‘thriller’ Non-Stop, which was not very good.
The story here is a simple one. Girl goes to a secluded beach in Mexico. Girl gets attacked by Shark. Girl must survive and either beat the shark, make it to shore, or die in the process of either. That’s it. The trailer told the story and told it accurately. No surprises there, but what was a surprise is how well the movie built tension. I may have jumped a few times, and yes it relied on a jump scare or two but they were functional and I don’t begrudge the movie for it. I really found myself wondering what would happen next and how they would let it play out. This is a welcome surprise for a reviewer who spends a lot of time in the theatre or otherwise in front of a screen watching movies. Horror within the past decade has taught us that even the protagonist isn’t safe, so while many would discount it going “they won’t kill Blake”…I am not so sure anymore. I rather enjoy the uncertainty. It played on that and I was not disappointed as the movie built and ramped the tension.
From a technical aspect, I notice that the Horror genre is one of the few to try to integrate social media and technology into the narrative. While it is only in the first act, they do a pretty good job of integrating how she uses her phone to look at pictures and a video call with her sister. Rather than turning the camera away from the actor they keep on her and use overlays to give a display of the screen. This keeps you in the moment with her and holds to a more cohesive narrative rather than cutting away to show whatever is on screen. It’s an introduction from moment one that they use throughout the film to help show the passage of time via her watch and well…the sky. Had they not showed the initial media in this way it would have been more jarring later on. Additionally they use music and make up to progress the story. Marco Beltrami, composer of way too many things, does a good job integrating the music to help build tension appropriately. The make-up department did a knock out job with their work. They had to do a shark bite that looked real-ish, but also to gradually show Lively suffering from sun exposure, dehydration, and side effects from the bite.
The shark is a bit…meh. That said, I have really yet to see a Shark that doesn’t look meh on film. I *love* Jaws (which apparently I need to review?), but Bruce doesn’t look that hot. He did when people didn’t know what sharks looked like, enough so that people did horrible things out of fear of sharks. Now, not so much. Of course he was all practical. Since then we have never really been graced with good sharks. We know more about them in how they hunt, attack, anatomy; hell we have another Shark week coming, but we still can’t make a shark really look good on film. We know that sharks not only breach, but do so more often than we realized, yet when Hollywood does it…yeah. I am looking a a list of “Movies about sharks” on wiki right now and it’s generally overloaded by SyFy films and their dubious quality. The shark here isn’t *that* bad and it is one of the better ones, but I just feel that we’re still not trying as much as we could to make them look better.
The Shallows is actually one of the best shark attack/survival movies out there. I rather enjoyed the tension and spent a moment talking to the couple next to me after the movie who agreed this is up there in the genre. It doesn’t try to deviate too much from it’s simple premise and that is a strength of the movie. Blake Lively, who I didn’t talk about in the main body is good and has the chops to carry the movie and make it a bit more and work within the confines of the limited location and story. It has a tight running time and is wise to hold to it.
Should you watch it?
If you like the genre – yes. It is a solid ‘natural’ horror/survival film that does it’s job well and entertains.
Will Jess buy it?
Probably. The visuals are good. Sound is good. It’s worth it for that alone. It does have rewatch value.