Since the unbridled mania of Jaws in 1975, all who have tried to emulate its success have fallen short and this latest attempt at recapturing the magic formula of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster is no different. If you can accept Blake Lively as both a doctor and a skilled surfer, then you are probably not likely to worry too much about any of the other improbabilities that pervade this offering from Spanish producer/director Juame Collet-Serra. Despite the premise in which a shark menaces a surfer just 200 metres or so from an isolated beach, this is a far more sedate work than Collet-Serra’s recent outings; Liam Neeson actioners Non-Stop and Run All Night. However, being more subdued doesn’t necessarily mean this is any more logical or enjoyable. To be fair though, whilst this is flawed in many ways, it is still infinitely better than other recent renderings of sharks on screen, including Shark Night, the abominable Sharknado series or even Aussie offerings such as Bait and The Reef.
Given that the actual likelihood of falling victim to a shark attack is highly improbable and that any such attack isn’t likely to present the narrative complexity needed to sustain a feature length film, all filmmakers – Spielberg included – have had to take liberties with their portrayal of these creatures, making them much bigger, meaner and more persistent than the reality of the species. Such is the case here as Nancy (Lively) is harassed by an oversized predator that has seemingly overdosed on angry pills. In a bid to connect with her recently deceased mother, Nancy has ventured to the same remote Mexican beach that her mother had visited many years earlier. Joining a couple of locals in the water, the opening segment of the film is simply a montage of surfing imagery as Nancy (no doubt a combination of CGI and surfing stand-ins) takes on the barrels that break off shore. Before long, the others head back to the beach and Nancy finds herself in the company of a shark lured to the area by a whale carcass floating nearby. Despite the abundant food that the carcass offers, the shark takes a fancy to Nancy instead and a battle of wits begins.
Having suffered a nasty gash to her leg in her initial encounter with her stalker, Nancy takes refuge on a rocky outcrop that will be submerged come high tide, drawing on her medical expertise (how convenient) to treat the wound whilst working out exactly how she is going to escape the predicament in which she finds herself. A nearby buoy offers her best chance of survival, provided she can make it without being chomped by her great white adversary. The action amps up at this point as Nancy finds herself under attack, clinging desperately to the beacon as the shark becomes increasingly aggressive. This also means that things become somewhat sillier, Nancy setting the ocean on fire at one point before the showdown comes to a somewhat ludicrous end.
There are a few other characters that appear very briefly at various stages, but ultimately it is Lively who is front and centre of The Shallows, featuring in every scene and spending much of her screen time muttering to herself or the injured seagull that shares the rock with her. Filmed on the Gold Coast and Lord Howe Island, the photography from Flavio Martínez Labiano captures the beauty of the locations and, thankfully, he and Collet-Serra resist the temptation to have the camera linger over Lively’s body excessively despite the skimpiness of the bikini that serves as her costume for all but a few minutes. There is certainly an effort to present Nancy as something more than just sex appeal, although Lively isn’t entirely convincing in the more intense moments. The means by which she communicates her predicament to those on the mainland is quite clever though and brings a contemporary spin to proceedings. As was the case with Jaws all those years ago, the biggest problem lies in the fact that the shark just doesn’t look convincing, which makes it hard to generate the requisite level of fear for the fate of the protagonist. Dinosaurs are no problem, but it still seems as though creating a realistic-looking shark still lies beyond the capabilities of CGI practitioners.