Are you ready to get wet, Dr. Adams?: The Shallows

The Shallows (2016)

This solid and effective survival thriller may not be Jaws, but it delivers quite well the thrills it aims for and has an exciting climax

The Shallows


Di­rect­ed by Jaume Col­let-Ser­ra. Writ­ten by An­tho­ny Jaswin­s­ki. Star­ring Blake Live­ly.

Jaume Col­let-Ser­ra is one of those unimag­i­na­tive di­rec­tors who have nev­er writ­ten any­thing of their own but are al­ways hired by stu­dios to di­rect for­get­table projects. A quick look at his fil­mog­ra­phy and you find atroc­i­ties like House of Wax (2005) and Or­phan (2009) as well as three col­lab­o­ra­tions with Liam Nee­son: the lame Un­known (2011) and the bare­ly de­cent ef­forts Non-Stop (2014) and Run All Night (2015). Noth­ing re­mark­able, even if his di­rec­tion is usu­al­ly com­pe­tent de­spite the sil­ly scripts he ends up with (ex­cept for the dread­ful work he did in Or­phan; I doubt he was even try­ing there). In the case of The Shal­lows, he does put some ef­fort into it, and the re­sult is ef­fec­tive for a movie that is more about its di­rec­tion than any­thing else.

Star­ring Blake Live­ly as a typ­i­cal one-per­son sur­vival thriller, The Shal­lows takes place in a se­clud­ed beach in Mex­i­co where Nan­cy (Live­ly) trav­els to from Galve­ston, Texas fol­low­ing the con­nec­tion that her moth­er used to have with the place. Now, her moth­er has re­cent­ly died of can­cer and Nan­cy is a med­ical stu­dent who has been want­i­ng to drop out of col­lege ever since. What she seeks is only surf and peace in this beau­ti­ful, par­adis­al place, but things soon be­come a night­mare when a great white shark at­tacks her and she is left strand­ed on a rock two hun­dred yards from the shore. With no one around to save her, she will have to find a way to sur­vive and es­cape be­fore the high tide re­turns and she be­comes food for the ruth­less an­i­mal.

Be­gin­ning the movie with a tense scene shot on Go­Pro cam­era that doesn’t hide that there is some­thing to fear in those wa­ters, Col­let-Ser­ra takes his time to build a men­ac­ing feel. He is not in a hur­ry and knows that the wait­ing can be more nerve-rack­ing than jump­ing straight to ac­tion. Ac­tu­al­ly, it is fun­ny that he tries hard to be styl­ish in most of his movies and likes to show off with his cam­era, but what he does looks more nat­ur­al this time. I love how he shows us what Nan­cy sees on her phone by mak­ing the im­ages and pho­tos pop up in big scale on our screen, as well as the dy­nam­ic way he shoots the surf scenes with the use of slow mo­tion, breath­tak­ing aer­i­al shots of the gor­geous sea and the ex­plod­ing sound of huge waves crash­ing down.

Flavio Laviano’s cin­e­matog­ra­phy is stun­ning, by the way, es­pe­cial­ly in a scene that takes place in the dark of night, while the make­up job to cre­ate the bite wound on Nancy’s leg is re­al­is­tic enough to make us cringe in agony just by look­ing at it. To el­e­vate the ten­sion even more, Col­let-Ser­ra knows how to ex­plore the “count­down” fac­tor by oc­ca­sion­al­ly re­mind­ing us of the time left be­fore the high tide is back. He also has a good sense of ge­og­ra­phy and lets us have a clear idea of the dis­tance be­tween Nan­cy and the shore. But the best thing is how he ex­tracts an ex­cel­lent, vis­cer­al per­for­mance from Blake Live­ly who, like San­dra Bul­lock, is a beau­ti­ful ac­tress that can sur­prise us with her charis­ma and (rarely seen) tal­ent when well di­rect­ed.

And Live­ly proves us that in a scene in which the shark at­tacks a guy and we get to see only her re­ac­tion in close-up, not the at­tack it­self. It is not easy to draw dra­ma from her, but she does the best she can to show her char­ac­ter fight­ing her way out of a rock and a hard place with the use of her brains and med­ical knowl­edge. In fact, she is good enough to make us over­look how thin the plot ac­tu­al­ly is and how it doesn’t seem to care about the small de­tails, like Nancy’s cell­phone con­nec­tion work­ing so per­fect­ly in that re­mote place or the real im­por­tance of that cam­era that she tries so hard to catch. It doesn’t mat­ter, re­al­ly, and I do like how dis­turb­ing it is that some­one would joke about killing a woman in the mid­dle of nowhere.

With a great score by Mar­co Bel­tra­mi and com­pe­tent spe­cial ef­fects to cre­ate the shark (al­though the dol­phins in CGI look ter­ri­ble, I must say), this sol­id thriller is not Jaws (1975), of course, but it de­liv­ers quite well the thrills it aims for with an ex­cit­ing cli­max. It is a pity that it tries to sound pro­found in the end and have a “mes­sage,” or some­thing of the sort. It is, af­ter all, a sur­vival film in the most clas­si­cal way, so why not, right? But that isn’t im­por­tant, not when Col­let-Ser­ra makes it so en­ter­tain­ing. And the one sure thing I can say is that this is his best movie in years (or should I say ever?), though I’m afraid that isn’t say­ing much re­al­ly.

Sep­tem­ber 20, 2016


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