If certainly not living up to the full potential of its impressive high-concept premise, The Shallows is nevertheless a refreshingly serious shark movie that provides a definitive glimpse at Blake Lively’s acting prowess.
The set-up is dead simple; medical student Nancy Adams (Lively) heads to Mexico to surf at the same beach that her late mother did. However, before long she finds herself injured, trapped on a rock and if that wasn’t bad enough, facing off against a great white shark who is hell-bent on ensuring she doesn’t make the short swim back to shore.
It’s a delicious premise and, rather smartly, director Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, Orphan, Non-Stop) makes the most of it by ramping up the tension throughout and keeping the run-time extremely tight at just 86 minutes. Many of the film’s best moments in fact milk the minimalist aspects of the production – largely featuring one actor and made for just $17 million – with the shark presence muted while Nancy tends to her wounds and bonds with a seagull who also occupies the rock.
The film is less successful when it succumbs to some of the B-movie flourishes you’d hope it would avoid; the unnecessary family soap opera drama for one, as well as some truly cringe-worthy dialogue in the third act in particular, and some rather absurd CGI-assisted action beats.
When it sticks to the suspense stuff, it’s terrifically tense, entertaining stuff, and Lively does her career a huge favour here by signing up for a one-woman show as are so rare in Hollywood. Credit to Collet-Serra for not milking Lively’s lithe body as much as many likely expected; the leering camerawork is at a fairly tasteful minimum, which makes it easier to take the whole excursion seriously.
As fantastic as the film typically looks, though, there’s a comical over-abundance of slow-motion employed throughout, as if the film’s first cut only ran to 70 minutes and it needed to be distended with desperate, abusive time-ramping.
Still, while massively imperfect, The Shallows is a refreshingly pointed, trim Hollywood entertainment that doesn’t outstay its welcome and should satisfy fans of a genre that’s been stuck in the B-movie doldrums for quite some time.
The Shallows is in US cinemas now and UK cinemas August 12th