It’s been exactly 100 years since a shark first terrorized beach swimmers on the coast of New Jersey. That story inspired Peter Benchley to write Jaws and Steven Spielberg to direct the 1975 blockbuster movie. Ever since, moviemakers have been trying to recreate the same kind of cinematic magic.
The closest that I’ve seen is Rogue, an Australian thriller about a group of sightseers stranded in a secluded lagoon after a monstrous crocodile swamps their tour boat.
If you’ve seen those two movies, then you’ve seen all of the best parts of The Shallows, an American movie by Spanish action-thriller director Jaume Collet-Serra who really should have known better. His Liam Neeson movie Non-Stop, while implausible, still managed to hold the audience on the edge of its seat till the very end.
You can probably guess how The Shallows will end, even if you haven’t seen the trailers. Those trailers, by the way, contradict this type of movie’s first law of storytelling: the creature is to be seen as little as possible.
And so with that part spoiled, I don’t mind spoiling a little bit more for any reader out there who might be tempted to take in this creature feature. It’s pretty dumb. It’s smart in some ways too, but there are some things that are so dumb that they cannot be overlooked or put back in balance with what isn’t dumb.
Blake Lively plays Nancy Adams, a surfer/med school student whose mother has just died. First, this character’s name is laughable. Secondly, if she’s smart enough to go to med school then she should be smart enough to have some basic common sense. That, coupled with her obvious experience as a surfer, should have kept her safely on the sand and not out in the water by herself at a secluded beach. The last thing she should have done would be swim right up to the dead whale with clear bite marks in the side, especially after she already sensed something amiss in the water. That and it would have stunk.
Worse, it would sensibly be where a shark was feeding.
For some stupid reason, the shark ignores the easy meal of the whale and goes after the surfer who has exponentially less of a meal to offer it. How there’s only one shark enjoying the blubbery feast is beyond me but the big fella that is there defies shark logic and chases the swimmer who soon finds herself on a rock perched out of the water.
The good part of this movie shows how she must tend her wounds and figure her way back to safety (i.e. defeating the beast). Again, you could probably guess at how this turns out for her.
That being said, the film does hold up its own when it comes to offering tense, heart-pounding nightmare fuel. We spend most of the time watching the crystal clear water looking for a fin or a shadow. We spend most of the waiting for the next attack, the next chance at salvation, and the next unexpected event that thwarts it. Life is just one damned thing after another and Nancy has to face each of them in turn in order to get back to land. Mercifully, this movie takes only 90 minutes for her to accomplish that.
Starring Blake Lively, Ăłscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen, and Sedona Legge
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by: Anthony Jaswinski
Rated: 14A for violence and coarse language
Runtime: 86 minutes
Now playing at Cineplex Odeon North Edmonton and Scotiabank Theatres