Genre: Survival Horror
In its opening few scenes, The Shallows, with its glossy finish, invasive 3d phone effects and loud pop music could have almost had you convinced it was just a teen movie. But The Shallows doesn’t fuck around. The poster of the film displays Blake Lively hanging onto a buoy in beachwear, but there is nothing gratiutious about the display of her body in the film. Nor is there gratuitious gore (note: there is still gore). Director Jaume Collet-Serra constructs a suprisingly raw and tense picture about a girl stranded and forced to use her wits and determination to face off against a shark.
From the moment Lively sets foot in the ocean we’re hit with a sense of dread. The camera hangs from above, highlighting the vast expanse of water that we can’t see through. It follows her in at water level. Waves lap up against the screen almost half-filling it, yet we aren’t allowed to see what’s below.
And soon the dread becomes heightened tension as the predator introduces himself, at first a black shadow in the blue of a wave, soon a fast-swimming sharp-toothed demon, always there somewhere, watching, circling. Throughout, the film moves between these two feelings – tension and dread. Lively may become safe for a while, but she can’t stay safe for long if she needs to focus on getting out of there.
It’s like a game. There are rocks that disappear when the tide comes in, coral that stings like jellyfish. There’s a buoy but it might be just too far away. A wounded seagull, a dead whale. Lively has exact time limits – 30 seconds to swim to that ridge. ‘Yeah, I can do that’. But something always goes wrong. There’s always a complication. Every time Lively passes a test she is just faced with another. And her time is running out.
Where The Shallows falters is in its characterisation and depth (no pun intended). If you can get past Blake Lively playing a medical student from Texas who is great at surfing, you will also have to sit through awkward video calls to her family and an even more awkward found-footage ‘goodbye’ sequence. But altogether this is an effective, well constructed horror with many memorable moments, as well as an interesting cinematographic style and a strong lead performance.