The plot of The Shallows is so simple that it doesn't even warrant a full summary. Blake Lively plays Nancy, a surfer and med student who is searching for a beach that her late mother had praised for so long. Stuck a crossroads in her life, finding the spot brings her peace and she has a great time surfing the waves. But eventually, she realizes that there's also a giant shark in the water. Injured and stuck on a rock away from shore, Nancy must use her wit and survival skills to fight the giant monster and live to see another day. That's it. The story could basically be summarized as Blake Lively vs. Giant Shark.
Sure, there's a little added character development and a few other things to spice the movie up a bit, but at its core, this is a very simple film. In the hands of a much less capable director, this straightforward tale would have become endlessly convoluted and intricate, ruining the beautiful simplicity of it. Thankfully, under the steady hand of Jaume Collet-Serra, who has done wonders for schlocky B-movies like Run All Night and Non-Stop in the past, The Shallows hits all the right notes. Collet-Serra keeps the tension high at all times. It runs through each frame of the film and gives it an uneasiness that is palpable and hard to shake. The action never manages to feel exploitative or overly goofy, instead working with a gritty poise.
In its essence, The Shallows feels like a call-back to the summer movies of old, where the season was dominated by B-movie fare instead of giant CGI destruction (the contrast between this film and this weekend's Independence Day: Resurgence is staggering). The film runs only 87 minutes long, and it moves shockingly fast. Despite about 20 minutes of initial exposition to set up Nancy's basic character motivations, this thing is always moving, and there's barely a moment where the audience can stop to catch their breath. When the film had reached its climax, I was stunned that things were wrapping up already. But this is far from a bad thing. Collet-Serra's pacing is excellent and I loved the fact that the movie was quick, concise, and to-the-point.
Ultimately, Blake Lively's performance is the glue holding The Shallows together. There are other actors in the movie- Oscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen, Sedona Legge, and of course, Steven Seagull (the injured bird who becomes the film's heart and soul), all make brief appearances- but this is basically a one-woman show. Lively is up to the challenge, giving a hard-nosed performance that is both emotional and satisfying. Her character arc takes a few turns that are just a tad bit too forced for their own good, but screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski sets up some great parallels for Lively to work with. She emerges as sweet and daring, sensitive and courageous, creating a strong female character who is both beautiful and brilliant. Believe it or not, Lively just might give one of the best performances of the year so far.
The Shallows isn't groundbreaking or innovative, nor is it likely to be remembered by many critics at the end of the year. With the short runtime and plain structure, it's a film that instantly feels slight and disposable. For many films, that kind of setup would present an insurmountable challenge that would be a struggle to overcome. And yet, thanks to a phenomenal turn by Lively and the measured directorial eye of Collet-Serra, The Shallows surfaces as a film that I think a lot of people are going to adore. Oh, and of course, we can't give Steven Seagull enough credit either. That bird pretty much steals the show. Best Supporting Actor glory is coming his way in the near future.
THE FINAL GRADE: B (7.3/10)
Image Credits: Variety, Joblo