Saturday, January 28, 2017

Swimming Into "The Shallows"

For most viewers of a certain age, Jaws is still the standard bearer for shark films. There have been many variations on the story since that Steven Spielberg classic defined the summer popcorn movie upon its release in 1975. They include several sequels & inferior knock offs like 1977’s Orca, as well as entertaining B-flicks like 1999’s Deep Blue Sea, featuring super-intelligent predators facing off against Samuel L. Jackson. There’s also the ongoing Sharknado series, which spoofs both shark & disaster films and adds increasingly outlandish situations to each new entry. On the other end of the spectrum is 2016’s The Shallows, a well-made thriller starring Blake Lively. The shark in this film just might give Bruce from Jaws a run for his money.

Lively plays Nancy Adams, a medical student grieving the loss of her mother. She travels to a secluded beach in Mexico once visited by her mom, with her surfboard in tow. Nancy spends some time surfing & chatting with a couple of local natives. After they leave, she notices the carcass of a whale floating nearby. While riding one last wave solo, she is knocked off her board by a great white shark, and her leg is seriously injured in the attack. Nancy ends up swimming to a nearby rock, and has to temporarily bind her wounds. Meanwhile the shark is still circling, and threatening to finish her off…and the tide is coming in quickly.

What follows is a suspenseful tale of resourceful human vs. crafty shark, as Nancy tries to figure out a way to get to shore, and/or contact someone for help. Director Jaume Collet-Serra ratchets up the tension in several exciting & truly terrifying sequences. He wisely uses the CGI shark effects sparingly, and truly communicates the sense of menace & threat offered by this monstrous creature. Serra clearly learned from Spielberg’s “show less is more” technique from the original Jaws, which was forced upon him by technical issues with the mechanical shark on that film, and ended up being very effective in the final product. The movie's visually striking cinematography is by Flavio Labiano. 

Blake Lively does fine work here in a tough & physically demanding role; she did several of her own stunts in the movie. Her character is essentially on screen for the film’s entire running time. She effectively conveys Nancy’s range of emotions during this challenging situation, from the initial fear & hopelessness right on through to her incredible strength & determination to survive. There are several other actors that show up in the film in brief supporting parts, the most recognizable being character actor Brett Cullen, who plays Nancy’s father. But this is Lively’s show all the way, and she’s excellent. The movie is an exciting, well-produced survival story, and if you enjoy the genre, The Shallows is recommended viewing. The film is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and also for digital download. Here’s a link to the trailer:

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