“The Shallows” Review (***½)

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Blake Lively stars in “The Shallows.”

This may just be me, but when I first set eyes on the trailer for “The Shallows” I scoffed a good scoff; it seemed like an on-the-nose title for what would surely be a shallow shark-trope jump-scare film, made bearable only by a beautiful locale.

I was very wrong—so thrilled to be wrong.

“The Shallows” is an impressive departure from the fairly baseline arena of the action/horror genre that director Jaume Collet-Serra has thus far resided in. I went in expecting the shark-equivalent of a slasher, where I’d likely want the chick to die mid-way through and be done with it. Instead what I had the pleasure of imbibing was a bonafide triumph story. One of those involuntary reflex fist-in-the-air stories, where you feel genuinely engaged in the struggle and cheer for the victories. Yeah!

“Jaws” meets “Gravity”, if you will—yes, seriously.

Our one-woman shark-battling badass of a protagonist is Nancy—a superb character, layered to perfection by actress Blake Lively. Without this performance, this film would have been dead in the water.

Ha.

But for real. Lively is magnetic, fierce, clever, and entirely breathtaking to watch as she breaks this character and then builds her back up. Something that can only be attributed to the strength of performance and direction; not so much the screenplay.

Which isn’t to say that the screenplay is bad—it’s a good, not great, simple three-act blacklist-rescue by Anthony Jaswinski that plays it safe in its exposition. Unfortunately, though, the film’s spell-it-out-for-the-audience moments cast a stark contrast against the intelligence instilled within the lead character, creating some contradictory moments that feel very unnecessary. With this film’s largely well-executed show-don’t-tell backbone, the exposition-heavy reiteration of what they’ve already successfully depicted is just redundant. Removing it would have told the same story. Seeing them do it right and then do it wrong in the same breath is one of those—why, why, stop doing that, why—palm to forehead occurrences.

That being said, the exposition isn’t at all offensive or demeaning of audience intelligence, and I doubt the casual movie-goer will even pick up on it much—screenplay nerds like myself might be the only ones that notice. Overall the writing drips with potential, telling us a full story about a young woman overcoming tragedy, hiding from who she is, seeking solace; who is forced into a situation where she can’t hide and has to fight. In the process, she figures out who she is, what’s important, and what life she wants.

Nothing like a good shark to set you straight, right?
Yeaaaaah.

It’s that theme and message that secures this film a place in an entirely different category than I think most will expect. If you’re looking for a swift inspirational kick-in-the-butt, this film is for you.

On the parallel, though, if you’re looking for an intense and thrilling action film, this film is also for you and it won’t disappoint on that level in any way. Flavio Martínez Labiano initiates and then builds his cinematography on a stunning mastery of foreshadow, geographical-awareness, and tension-building reveals; every moment feels impactful, suspenseful, and absolutely necessary to set the stage. And, possibly most important, he’s very mindful of where CG is a factor and plays the angle for subtlety. All of this seamlessly interwoven with Marco Beltrami’s lively and moment-driving score, I must say, there isn’t a second that doesn’t feel immersive.

With a powerhouse performance that has you checking your leg to see if you’ve somehow been bitten by a theatre shark, this film is a sight for sore “Independence Day: Resurgence” eyes. I didn’t leave the theatre swearing to never go into the ocean again; I left wanting to go seek out a brawl with a shark and find myself.

Disclaimer: I in no way endorse brawls with sharks.

You get the point. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Worth seeing in the theatre, In my opinion.

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