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The Shallows (2016)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada, Angelo Jose, Lozano Corzo, Jose Manual

Written By: Anthony Jaswinski Directed By: Jaume Collet-Serra

The Shot

The Shallows is a creature survival story stripped down to essentials while still retaining substance.  It’s one of the most pleasant surprises of the year so far, and earns a spot in the overall Shark Movie Top Three.

The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


A delicious snack, spread on what looks like a surfboard.  Hey, who took that bite out of it?

Pairs Well With...


The best way to get a Mexican strain of the Irish flu.  (Watch the movie and you’ll understand.)

“Careful, gringa.”

I admit it: my original summer movie plan was to skip over The Shallows.  After all, just how interesting could it be to watch one person who can’t swim 200 yards to safety without being eaten by a shark?


The Shallows takes the ‘creature survival’ plot frame and strips it down very close to the core, leaving just enough meat on the bone to retain some substance.  It starts by spending exactly the right amount of energy to establish our heroine, Nancy (Blake Lively), as a human the audience should care about who possesses a believable set of survival skills as a nearly-finished medical student.  It then establishes the location, with a dual emphasis on beauty and near-isolation.  Both of these things are done with remarkable efficiency, aided by the most effective use of picture-in-picture inserts I’ve seen in quite a long while.  And right after that… it’s showtime.

“Showtime” comes in the form of one very hungry, very territorial, and very science-ignorant shark, which has been feeding on the floating corpse of a whale before getting a bead on Nancy.  (We ignore the dietary energy equation which says that the shark should remain content to feed on the blubber-and-muscle laden whale corpse and not care about the surfing tourista, whose athletic frame has almost no body fat to speak of beyond her chest.  We do this because this is a killer shark movie, ergo, “duh.”)  It manages to get a chomp on her leg before she manages to scramble atop a tiny outcropping of rock 200 yards from shore, after which it’s content to cruise the shallows until she’s ready to jump back in, which she will, of course, have to do at some point if she wants to survive...

…except for the tiny detail that even at 100% healthy, she’d have no chance of outswimming a Great White, and she’s got a bleeding slice of leg that’s only being held together by a couple pieces of improvised jewelry.  Given that almost no one else even knows this beach exists, her odds of being rescued by someone else aren’t much better than zero, either.

 So, just how interesting can it be to watch one person who can’t swim 200 yards to safety without being eaten by a shark?

As it turns out, the answer is: “very interesting.”  Color me genuinely impressed.

Four things come together to make The Shallows my biggest pleasant surprise of the year so far.

First, Blake Lively is very much up to the task of holding the entire movie by herself.  Her performance is self-assured without being obnoxious or unbelievable.  She’s charismatic without having to say much, and badass without having any other weapons but her surf suit, her earrings, and her brain.  Lively takes the framework of the script and elevates it through interpretation, realizing a character very much worthy of the Lone Survivor’s mantle.

Second, Director Jaume Collet-Serra presents a master class in atmospherics, starting with the efficient build-up and then maintaining wire-tight tension throughout the entirety of the film’s final hour and small change (from first bite to ultimate climax).  This outstanding direction fits hand in glove with the third item of note, which is the fact that at 86 minutes (inclusive of credits), The Shallows is exactly as long as it should be and not one minute longer or shorter.  Any longer, and it could easily have become a bore; any shorter, and it’s not really a modern feature film anymore, is it?  This is some of the tightest editing I’ve seen in a while.

Finally, there’s the shark, which I shocked to be praising because it is completely 100% CGI, without any appearances from Bruce the mechanical shark or Nathan George the stock footage.  (“Nathan George” is also known as “Nat Geo.”  Yes, I just made that up, and I’m very proud of it.  Feel free to do me a solid and give me some credit if you decide to use it yourself!  But anyway.)  But – aided by the fact the shark only appears on camera when it absolutely has to (all the better to maintain the aforementioned tension) – the shark looks good.  Finally, special effects have reached a level where, given adequate talent and budget, a swimming predator no longer has to look like a silly Colorform, and it’s awesome.  Especially come time for the sudden climax that you probably won’t see coming.

I won’t spoil it, but damn, that’s well done.

And that really sums up the entire experience that is The Shallows.  It’s just exceptionally well done, and very much worth the watch for any shark or survival movie fan.  Indeed, I have no problem sticking The Shallows on an Olympic viewing stand with Jaws and Deep Blue Sea as one of the best shark movies ever, and that’s something I really wasn’t expecting to say going in.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, July, 2016

More From The Bar! | The Giant Behemoth | The Legend of Tarzan | Piranha |

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