The Shallows Review
There aren't too many movies about the "one-person survival." Where one person is put in an extraordinary situation, and has to survive it relying only on themselves. They are rare, but if done right, can be ingratiatingly good. There are great examples (Castaway), good examples (I Am Legend) and bad examples (Wrecked), and I was eager to find out where "The Shallows" would fit into the equation.
For the most part, "The Shallows" is pretty good. Its not horrible, but its not astounding either. Its pretty good. After "Jaws" did a good job of instilling a fear of sharks in me, I can honestly say that "The Shallows" has certainly reinstated that fear. The use of sharks in the film is certainly well-staged and surprisingly minimal. But the small doses of shark attacks work for the film and not against it. The bulk of the film deals with Nancy Adams (Blake Lively), who goes on a surfing trip. She is trying to get away from a recent tragedy. A friend was supposed to accompany her on this trip, but bailed on the last minute. That won't stop Nancy, she needs this time away from the world, the time to shut everything out of her life. So she decides to surf some by herself.
Of course, that doesn't go so well for the young medical student. She hurts herself on a massive wave, and soon enough she is in the middle of the ocean, wounded, surrounded by sharks. She is able to find potential safety on a small island, but the island will eventually get engulfed from the upcoming waves. So will Nancy wait it out or will she find a way to get to shore? How can she get to shore with a busted leg? Much like "Castaway," "The Shallows" is much more than just a "man survives the island" movie. We felt we got to know Tom Hanks, we understood what he needed to do in order to not loose his mind, and why getting home was so important to him. "The Shallows" is much more than a pretty girl surviving sharks movie. We get to know Nancy as a character. We see her use her surroundings to her advantage. We see her overcome odds due to character development instead of plot convenience. It adds to the tension and suspense when the sharks do show up to prey.
Movies like this rest almost solely on the lead. Simply put, that's pretty much all we get. Blake Lively is the only pair of eyes we see through this world, just like Tom Hanks and Will Smith before her (just to name a few), and when you make one-person dramas like this, the one person you cast has to make the entire thing work. Sure, Lively has a few people coming here and there for some minor support, as did the other actors. But its the lead the anchors the whole thing. How does Lively do? She's okay. I think she handles most of the early character work well. When its time to get into survival mode though, I am surprised how little she has to do. Sure, I guess she does a good job crying for help and making entertaining herself seem fun. But I feel any actress could have done the emotions she is given to do here, and dare I say, they could have done it better. All of Lively's hollering gets annoying after awhile, and I feel the right actress would have made us feel all of her characters' desperation.
There are some interesting helmet-camera moments in the movie, giving the film a realistic vibe. There is also one haunting moment when a bystander tries to help Nancy, only to lose both legs in the process. There is a splendid mix of survival-ism and horror on display in this movie, and its all staged incredibly well. Its just Lively doesn't connect with us on the emotional level that I feel like she should have. I never thought Lively was the strongest of actresses and she proves here that a one-woman show is a little overwhelming for her yet. Still there is a enough intensity and mayhem here for a solid recommendation.
FINAL GRADE: B