/horror is stranded with Blake Lively in “The Shallows” (2016)

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Columbia Pictures

Baddie: One large, bitter shark.

Lesson: Surfing can be dangerous if you let it be?

If you’ve followed Rooster Illusion and /horror [SciFridays] for a while, you’ll know I like shark movies. I’m tempted to say the last theatrical shark movie release was Shark Night? (Internet, help?) In 2011. Needless to say, I’ve been waiting, patiently, for something more grandiose than Ghost Shark to come my way.

The plot is simple enough – med student Nancy (Blake Lively) goes on a soul-searching mission to find a secret beach her mom surfed on way back when her mom was pregnant with Nancy. While surfing, she is attacked by a great white shark and is subsequently stranded in the ocean, relatively close to shore. The shark relentlessly pursues her…the end.

I went into this movie with zero expectations, so I can happily report that it exceeded them. Lively does a shockingly nuanced job, especially considering she occupies about 90% of the screen-time and dialogue.

The whole movie does look like an Instagram filter. I don’t say this as a jaded millennial, but rather it feels like the film is supposed to feel like there’s a lens in between the viewer and Nancy/shark. This is bolstered by the filmaker’s (Jaume Collet-Serra) choice to use stylized depictions of smart-phone and Go-Pro content superimposed on the screen, rather than just allowing the audience to be a passive participant in Nancy’s various online interactions.

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Columbia Pictures

There’s a conscious visual separation of spheres. I think the goal was to define the shark space, the beach space, and Nancy’s space. I don’t think it was always successful, although it works in a limited sense. There’s a distinct sense that Nancy is always intruding, even (especially?) when she’s clumsily speaking Spanish to the locals and trying to figure out the name of the darn beach. She’s trying to be respectful, but this is definitively her journey and the beach is simply a catalyst. Of course, we have the shark domain, the water itself. During surfing montages, every time the camera dips under water the music (mostly a jaunty pop tune) cuts out. At first, it builds a delicious tension, but then it becomes kind of irritating as the pacing escalates.

For me, this separation of shark and girl and the space they occupy is the sort of main difference between The Shallows and most shark movies. Instead of being a lurking terror 100% of the time, the shark is often treated as an active participant. Again, this is with mixed results. The audience sees the shark within the first five minutes, jaws bared and violent. However, there was attempt no disillusion here. This is a shark movie, the shark is featured prominently in the trailers and promotional material. They don’t seem to care if you know anything about it, because ultimately it’s still a 15’+ foot great white who wants to eat Blake Lively.

There are still a decent chunk of jump scares, which I still feel are not a per-requisite for a shark movie despite their overabundance within the genre. I was kind of over it by the end, but I’ll admit that my heart was pumping. The Shallows is adrenaline filled. Nancy is continually driven to make riskier choices to survive, and the shark is emboldened by her necessary decisions.

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Columbia Pictures

That being said…the CGI is pretty bad. Maybe bad is the wrong word. Maybe ‘noticeable’ is the right way to go. Now I’m not saying that CGI is always the devil, but it is definitely distracting here. I like to reference Shark Night because it’s one of the few shark movies that bothers with hardcore animatronics, and it shows. Shark Night is actually one of my favorite shark movies, but that’s a different article. (Note: There is CGI in Shark Night, and it is also bad)

Nancy herself is what I like to call a ‘beautiful idiot’. Sure, she’s a med-school dropout, so she’s probably book smart, but she often lets nostalgia run her life. She’s an emotionally fueled character, which sometimes helps her survive but mostly hinders to function like a normal human being. I’m just saying that if I saw a large dead whale in the water I probably would book it, because, y’know, sharks.

Her resourcefulness is simultaneously the best part and the most infuriating part of this movie. Sometimes she does questionable movie-logic-y things (earring sutures) and sometimes I wanted things to succeed so bad (emergency compression bandage). The eventual shark death is super dramatic and kind of awesome. I’m not sure if it completely redeems some of the other dumb things this movie pulls, but it’s a close call.

Nancy is also REALLY good at bleeding. Like, so good at it. Steven Seagull is the best character hands down, and I hope he gets a spinoff.

Surprisingly good shark movie just in time for summer – if you like a good creature feature, I’d say The Shallows is worth a viewing.


 

Did you know that shark populations are dwindling? This is due to fear based culling, illegal fishing, and of course, the consumption of shark fin soup. Shark Savers is trying to change global perceptions and help out the world’s shark population. There are a few options to help, everything from signing petitionsdoing a dive to save sharks or spreading the word and educating people about sharks. You can also follow them on Twitter for current news, and of course you can donate.

Click for Shark Savers

 

 

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