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Swimming with sharks - 'The Shallows'

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Shark attack film offers surprising depth of entertainment

In the cinematic circumstances in which we currently find ourselves, the relentlessness of promotion is inescapable. This means that we have access to an unprecedented amount of information about films before they even arrive on our local screens. Trailers, sneak previews, early reviews it has reached the point where we seemingly can't help but form an opinion about a film before we've even seen it. And most of the time, those prematurely-formed opinions are relatively accurate ones.

But sometimes sometimes a movie can still surprise you.

Take 'The Shallows.' I went into this movie thinking that it was going to basically be a sort of shiny B-movie where Blake Lively fights a shark and that it would be a terribly excruciating movie-going experience. And I was right about most of it the shininess, the B-movie-ness, the Lively-shark-fighting-ness.

But 'The Shallows' isn't terrible or excruciating. In fact, it's an unexpectedly solid piece of entertainment.

Lively plays Nancy, a med school dropout who's in Mexico looking for a mysterious beach that she knows only from some photos left by her now-deceased mother. She hitches a ride with a local named Carlos (Oscar Jaenada, 'The Healer') and gets dropped off at the beautiful, isolated spot and decides to hit the water to catch some waves.

As she surfs, she briefly encounters a couple of locals, but for the most part, she is out there alone, riding the waves and communing with her mother's spirit aside from a brief chat with her worshipful little sister (Sedona Legge in her feature debut) and her disapproving dad (Brett Cullen, 'The Last Rescue') and a couple of texts exchanged with a never-seen traveling companion.

Nancy looks for one last wave, but is drawn out deeper into the water by some frolicking dolphins that lead her right into a whale carcass a carcass that just became less interesting to the great white shark that was feeding upon it. Nancy's arrival marks her as fresh prey and the shark attacks she is just barely able to escape to the questionable safety of a rock outcropping that according to the locals will be underwater come high tide.

Just 200 yards from the shore, Nancy is trapped. She is left injured and exposed, stranded on rock with no protection from the elements and only an injured seagull for company. The combination of her wounds and her circumstances leave her with a limited window if she is to have any hope of escape a window that continues to close with every second that passes.

Despite salvation in plain sight, Nancy is going to have to call on every ounce of ingenuity and fortitude at her disposal if she wants to make it out alive.

Don't get me wrong 'The Shallows' is patently ridiculous. Its central conceit is laughable, but somehow, it manages not to invite derision. It is a remarkably self-aware movie director Jaume Collet-Sera, screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski and Lively all clearly understand the inherent ludicrousness of their premise. But rather than wink at the audience or succumb to over-the-top temptations, they simply treat the proceedings with respect.

The result is far better than a Blake Lively shark movie has any right to be.

Frankly, the quality of the visual aesthetic is impressive. Collet-Sera finds ways to bask in the beauty of his setting; that beauty offers a wonderful counterpoint to the gruesome nature of the narrative. The shark scenes are well-rendered, avoiding the cut-out CGI cartoonishness that I know I was expecting. And despite the overall brightness of the setting, the filmmakers definitely manage to mine some real tension.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in a movie filled with them is Blake Lively's performance. She's really good. Never in a million years would I have expected her to be capable of carrying a film any film by herself. But she does it. She's by herself for the majority of the film's runtime, yet she manages to fill the screen and engage the story without much in the way of dialogue. It's just her on a rock being stalked by a shark and she nails it. I'm not much of a fan of her work, but it's easily the best I've ever seen from her.

'The Shallows' isn't going to win awards or break box office records. But for those who like a little variety in their summer popcorn fare, this movie provides the ideal counterpoint to the massive franchise tentpoles of the season. It's not great, but it's entertaining and really, can you ask for more?

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:45


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