A surfer girl tries to out-maneuver a shark for long hours on end. A movie like this lives or dies on the cinematography, the texture and the suspense pacing. The Shallows is not going to have us dethrone “Jaws” as the definitive thriller at sea classic, but this one is one of the better little thrillers of recent times. Blake Lively is the resourceful girl in peril who gets stranded on an isle of jagged rock while a shark stalks the lagoon of a Mexican beach. It sounds like a thankless role for Lively, but she is agile and determined, gasping and frightened in ways that invite empathy. I wouldn’t have wanted another actress for the part.
The director is Jaume Collet-Serra who is talented but often given sub-standard material to work with (“Unknown” and “Non-Stop” with Liam Neeson). Here he immerses us into those beautiful but dangerous waters – every image has texture. He employs some surreal lighting in key moments, such as when Lively swims into glowing waters infested by jellyfish. I hope he gets to work on more movies in the near future.
What the movie didn’t need that much of is the baggage. There is some obligatory exposition of Lively’s troubles with family back home that the movie starts with, none that mattered to me. It’s brief. When “The Shallows” gets going, and we get to fear this angry shark – and the movie cleverly gives good reason as to why the shark is angry (it has to do with a permanent mouth puncture) – the movie has us clutching our seats tight.
87 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
SUSPENSE-THRILLER / MATURE TEENS / WEEKEND GOOSEBUMPS
Film Cousins: “Jaws” (1975); “Deep Blue Sea” (1999); “Open Water” (2004); “127 Hours” (2010).