“The Shallows,” directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, is a mindless shark drama that works oddly well in spite of itself.
After losing her mother to cancer, an American med student named Nancy (Blake Lively) takes an escape vacation to a mystery beach in Mexico. Uncertain about her future in medical school, she hopes this trip will give her a sense of clarity by allowing her to reconnect with her mother, who had discovered this beach while pregnant.
Although the beach is just as picturesque as she had envisioned, the vacation goes nightmarishly wrong when Nancy is attacked by a great white shark. She manages to scramble away, stranding herself on a small rock that juts out of the ocean. What follows is a battle between brawn and wits as Nancy schemes to escape or be rescued.
Where some human-versus-nature movies relish the opportunity to keep its protagonist in isolation from the rest of the world, “The Shallows” seems to view this solitude as a hindrance, as writer Anthony Jaswinski refuses to leave any scene without dialogue. Nancy is constantly speaking to herself, whether she’s giving herself a pep talk or orally planning her escape. At times, she talks to a bird, whom she has named Steven Seagull, or even to the shark itself.
Some actors or actresses may be deft enough to stick the landing here. Lively, however, is not. Her mumbling voice rings hollow, failing to hit whatever notes of emotion are necessary to each line.
But blaming Lively’s performance too much would be unfair, as the dialogue is both unnecessary and bland. Even Hollywood’s greatest talents would struggle delivering such corny lines.
In fact, there isn’t a great reason why “The Shallows” needs so much dialogue. It’s as if Jaswinski was worried that viewers would lose interest or be unable to follow Nancy’s logic. The resulting script insults the audience’s intelligence while cutting the film’s suspense.
Even the emotional character arc of Nancy falls completely flat with an unnecessarily shoehorned epilogue. Her development is neither earned nor fulfilling.
The writing issues don’t stop with Nancy and her dialogue, though. “The Shallows” never really explains why the shark is so hungry for human flesh. And its behavior doesn’t seem to match that of a real live shark.
Yet, despite of all these major flaws, Collet-Serra’s film recovers due to its exquisite visuals. The beach is gorgeous; the shark looks intensely real. Each splash of ocean water seems to hit the viewers in the face. The cinematography cleverly keeps the shark outside of the frame, creating the lingering fear that the shark could strike at any moment. When the shark does appear, it seemingly erupts through the screen into the theater. This depiction creates an exhilarating visceral experience.
“The Shallows” is an odd beast. The dialogue is terribly unnecessary, the acting isn’t great, and the shark doesn’t always act like a real shark. Still, it manages to appeal to the senses enough to be an OK film.
MOVE gives “The Shallows” 2.5 out of 5 stars.