Film review: THE SHALLOWS, from ‘Built For Speed’

Ever since Jaws terrified beach-goers out of the water in 1975, sharks have been a cinematic symbol of menace and primal terror. There’s something particularly unnerving about floating around in the vast inky blackness of the ocean knowing that a huge, hungry razor-tooth creature could appear from nowhere and start munching on you. The Shallows, the latest film from Non-stop and Unknown director Jaume Collett-Serra, plays upon this well-established fear for a reasonably effective human vs beast thriller.

Here Blake Lively plays former medical student Nancy Adams who, following her Mother’s death, abandons her studies and seeks solace surfing the waves at a secluded Mexican beach.   When she’s sent hurtling from her board by a humongous shark she begins an agonising fight for survival clinging to a protruding rock that will soon be submerged by the tide.

This film is essentially the Reece Witherspoon drama Wild with a shark as the obstacle instead of a torturous hike. Both films concern a young woman disillusioned with life and traumatised by their mother’s death who undergo a gruelling, traumatic and cathartic experience. A visceral ordeal it is for Nancy as she endures some impressively vicious shark attacks realised through convincing cgi effects which should elicit plenty of audience shrieks and popcorn showers.

Nancy is a reasonably sympathetic heroine and audiences are left in no doubt about the horror of her situation as she attempts to stem a gaping bloody wound from a shark bite and battles both the bitter cold and the blazing sun while perched precariously on a sinking rock. We could, however, have done without her tendency to vocalise everything she is about to do.

In the film’s latter stages the limitations of its plot begin to tell as Nancy’s battle for survival recalls one of those ‘I shouldn’t be alive’ TV shows and the story becomes a little too predictable.  It doesn’t help that the film employs a ludicrous scenario in its finale.

Also, this film may encounter a backlash for two reasons. The first is the way the camera leers at Lively’s scantily clad body and treats her as much like a piece of meat as the shark does. The second concerns that fact that sharks are once again being demonised and depicted as entirely dangerous creatures that need to be destroyed. Let’s not forget, when we step into the ocean we enter their habitat.

The Shallows isn’t a startlingly original piece of cinema but – ethical qualms aside – it’s a pretty exciting ride.

Nick’s rating: ***.

Genre: Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Jaume Collett-Serra.

Release date: 18th Aug 2016.

Running time: 87 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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