The Shallows (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): Blake Lively Vs. Shark

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“The Shallows” is an efficiently terrifying thriller about one of the worst circumstances which may come upon you while you are alone at sea. Considering other similar films such as “Open Water” (2003), its tense marine survival drama is not exactly refreshing, but the movie is taut and suspenseful enough to hold our attention before eventually arriving at the obligatory ending, and it surely helps that its simple plot is supported by its commendable lead performance.

Blake Lively plays a young medical student named Nancy, and we get bits of her personal background while she talks with a local guy who is kindly driving to a relatively unknown beach located somewhere in Mexico. She is supposed to go there with her friend today, but her friend happens to have a problem, so she comes alone to this rather remote beach which was a special place for her recently diseased mother.

Things look fine and sunny when she arrives at the beach. There are a couple of guys who have already had a pretty good time for hours, and Nancy soon enjoys herself along with them. Although her mother’s recent death still remains as something she has not completely gotten over with, she feels better as riding on the surfs, and we are served with a montage of dynamic surfing shots as crisp as your average nature documentary footage.

After these two guys leave, Nancy is left all alone by herself on the beach. She decides to spend a bit more time at the sea, and this decision soon turns out to be a big mistake. Not long after swimming away a little far from the shore, she notices an unusual thing, and then she belatedly realizes that there is a huge white shark around her – and it is already determined to attack her as swiftly approaching to her.

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She manages to evade the shark, but the circumstance is quite grim for her. Being above the water thanks to a nearby rock, she is safe at least for now, but her temporary shelter is too far away from the shore, and she is likely to be eaten by the shark no matter how much she tries to swim fast. Furthermore, her left leg was severely injured during the first shark attack, and she must do something about this serious bleeding injury of hers.

As time goes by, her chance of survival is decreased more and more. Without anything to eat, she naturally becomes tired and hungry, and there is also the matter of periodical tidal changes which she must be careful about. The shark keeps swimming around her as waiting for any chance to attack, and that leads to a couple of frightening sequences which make us dread for what is about to happen in front of Nancy’s helpless position.

But she still has a small but precious possibility of survival, and she finds herself rising to the challenge a lot more than she ever imagined. As a woman with considerable medical knowledge, she concocts a crude but practical way to suture her injury although it does not entirely prevent the bleeding (If you cringe at her bloody surgery process, you will cringe further for a good reason whenever her injured leg is put into the sea). As spending more hours at her solitary spot, she becomes more acutely aware of her surrounding, and it looks like a rusty buoy near the rock can be utilized for her advantage – if  she can manage to outwit her opponent.

There are many scenes where Lively has to carry the movie alone on the screen, and she did the job fairly well in her convincing physical performance. While I could spot a number of scenes which are apparently helped by CGI and studio shooting, I had no problem with believing in every minute of her character’s desperate situation at the sea, and Lively is particularly good during a calmly emotional scene where her character prepares herself for what may be the last minutes of her life.

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The director Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously made “Non-stop” (2014) and “Run All Night” (2015), skillfully modulates the level of tension along the plot while providing good moments of shock and suspense. I enjoyed a marine variation of one familiar horror movie cliché during the early part of the movie, and I also liked the way the movie partially applies a familiar approach of found footage genre to one of its key sequences. The shark in the movie may not be as memorable as its senior in “Jaws” (1975), but it certainly looks terrifying – especially when it fully reveals its gruesome glory along with big sharp teeth.

The most amusing thing in the movie is an injured sea gull which becomes a sort of companion to Nancy. Even around the final act, they simply regard each other as a human and an animal who happen to be stuck together at the same spot, but we come to care about this bird as much as Nancy, and it eventually becomes the other important character of the story besides Nancy and her toothy foe.

During its short running time (86 minutes), “The Shallows” does everything it modestly aims to do, and the result is a lean, efficient thriller on the whole. I must point out that its finale is a bit contrived and I do not think its sentimental last minute is necessary, but it delivers its goodies along with several unexpected things to scare and entertain us, and I am fine with that.

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