Film review: The Shallows – lacks depth

The sea is not man’s element. Whilst Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra’s latest horror may effortlessly capture this, the result is very hit-and-miss.

The Shallows focuses solely on med student Nancy (Blake Lively). The story begins as she arrives at the same tropical beach in Mexico her pregnant mother had visited years before.

The concept of the beach resembling “paradise,” as friendly local Carlos (Óscar Jaenada) so claims, quickly vanishes as it becomes clear the waters aren’t as safe as they look. Nancy is left stranded on a rock with only an injured – but strangely likeable – seagull to keep her company. She is tormented by how close the shoreline is, and how unreachable sanctuary has become.

The film can be easily summarised as Blake Lively fighting a battle of the wits with a rather large shark, and the film is none the worse for it. Her forced, cliché-ridden backstory, however, is unsurprisingly dull and overbearing.

The Shallows’ greatest flaw is that it insists on being generic. There is a lot to like – the setting, concept and aesthetics are all there – but one can’t help but roll their eyes at Nancy’s soppiness and bumper-sticker mentality to “always keep fighting”. Nancy ‘catching waves’ in a fast-paced sequence set to equally fast-paced electronica feels as though it’s there out of necessity, and nothing more.

Photo: Columbia Pictures

Photo: Columbia Pictures

For the most part, it is a slow-moving struggle for survival that is effective at creating tension – even if the scares are often predictable and feel a little cheap.

Blake Lively delivers an excellent performance. Nancy demonstrates unbreakable determination and is, at least, a passable heroine. There are some surprisingly intimate character moments, although they are few and far between.

Her characterisation ultimately detracts more than it adds. Desperate attempts to make Nancy seem like a real human being, such as awkward FaceTime conversations, are uninteresting and unneeded.

However, it would seem that any meaningful character depth has ultimately been swapped out in favour of a bikini; her medical skills offer little more than to ensure the credits don’t start rolling after fifteen minutes.

The film works best when it’s carried by its own simplicity. When the film finally embraces the idea of woman-versus-shark, it’s a glorious spectacle to behold. Armed with only a flare gun, Nancy decides to fight the shark head on, delivering golden one-liners. The sequence, complete with a climax that will rouse a few cheers, is ridiculous, B-movie goodness.

But unfortunately, for as many well-crafted scenes the film showcases, there are an equal amount that fall flat.

The cinematography and beautiful visuals may be a superb achievement, but the numerous aerial-view shots of the sea begin to gradually feel rather self-indulgent. Scenes of tension, as gripping as they may be, are mostly fleeting.

As it stands, The Shallows is a serviceable, Saturday-night-at-the-movies horror. It doesn’t push new boundaries and reach new heights, but it doesn’t act as if it set out to. It succeeds in introducing an exciting concept with a great setting, but its execution, for the most part, is just short of the mark.