Let me stop you right there. I think I know what some of you might be thinking about The Shallows. And it’s easy to dismiss any shark movie as a Jaws ripoff. But that’s incredibly shortsighted and reductive. Not to mention unfair. There’s more to any movie – not just shark movies – than its basic concept. The creative aspect of filmmaking doesn’t end with said basic concept. The creativity really comes into play when an idea that has already been done numerous times is done again but with a completely unique take. It’s more than fair for someone to think, “What if they had taken this idea but done it this way instead?” and then to actually go and follow through on that idea. And that’s what we get with The Shallows.
I’m going to be upfront and say that I have absolutely nothing bad to say about this movie. So if that’s what you’re here for, thanks for the click. The exit is thataway.
But not only is nothing about The Shallows actively bad, every single aspect of the film is astounding. I don’t even know where I want to begin.
I guess I’ll begin with the star, Blake Lively. This role for her is the very epitome of a star-making performance. Though there are other characters in the movie, this is Lively’s film and she owns every second of it. She gives a mesmerizing performance that draws the audience in and forces them to feel what she feels – to experience what she experiences. I’ll talk more about how thrilling the film is as a whole but, ahead of getting into that in detail, I feel I must state that Lively is every bit as responsible for that as the shark is. It can’t be overstated how difficult it is to act – especially while exhibiting such a wide variety of intense emotions – without having at least one other actor alongside you to keep you motivated and in the moment and to play off of. Lively spends practically the entire film alone, much like Tom Hanks in Cast Away.
Despite that, the script gives her enough pre-disaster material and context to provide the character enough depth to ensure that she is relatable and sympathetic. If you don’t care about her character by the time the end credits roll, I have to assume you have no heart. I’d love to think that I won’t be the only one with her name in mind when awards season rolls around (it would be an immense shame for her to be overlooked and dismissed because of the role being part of “a shark movie”) but she makes the film into a wholly immersive experience through sheer will and talent. I have to believe that her profile will be on the rise once the right people see this movie.
Aside from and in addition to Lively, The Shallows is pretty close to being the most thrilling time I’ve had at the movies in quite a while, and certainly this year (it has strong competition, but nothing else has approached those two films in recent memory. Edit: Correction; there is one more.). Director Jaume Collet-Serra doesn’t have the longest of filmographies (though it includes two underrated and overlooked horror gems in 2005’s House of Wax and 2009’s Orphan) but he crafts this film like an auteur with decades of experience. Some of the shots alone are so imaginative and beautiful that my jaw dropped before any action actually took place. I wanted to hit pause and just marvel at the images in front of all four of my eyes. Sony has been embracing 4K blu-ray so I expect The Shallows will be released in that format. I was planning on upgrading my entertainment system to 4K towards the end of the year but if I can swing it, I may do it before then, just for this film. It’s that gorgeous. And I’m not just referring to the colors and scenery; I’m referring to everything. Every frame is shot with such an artistic brilliance that, when combined with Lively’s performance, I don’t see how it’s possible not to be completely swept away and into this experience.
And let’s discuss the tone. The tension and building suspense is palpable and unrelenting, never letting the viewer get completely relaxed or to forget that what they’re watching is make-believe. It’s PG-13, but it’s a pretty hard PG-13, pushing the boundaries just enough to ensure that the seriousness and dire nature of the situation at hand is unavoidably omnipresent. There is no holding back and when exciting things happen, they happen right in your face. But I never felt as if I was waiting for something to happen. The entire film truly carries an unforgiving urgency, whether it’s through a looming sense of dread or through startling jump-out-of-your-seat holy-$#!+ moments. And there is plenty of both.
Films like The Shallows are a huge part of why I love going to the movies. The thrill of being completely taken off guard and blown away by a film compares to very little else for me. The first time I can remember that happening was with Jurassic Park. That movie is the movie that made me love movies. Now, it’s happened again with The Shallows. It’s not unheard of, but I would say it happens two or three times a year, at best (last year, it was Room). And it’s just my favorite kind of filmgoing experience.
I made the mention of Jaws, earlier, because, while I don’t always care to compare films, that’s just what people do and that’s the film that people are going to want to compare The Shallows to. And I know people will ask me. So, I’ll just say it. In my mind, The Shallows is better than Jaws. And I say that with confidence and without the slightest bit of hesitation. Now, that’s all relative, but I enjoyed it more, personally. It gets the ball rolling much quicker, it has a stronger lead, a faster pace, and the advances in technology allow for more flexibility and freedom in the action. (Now, don’t message me about hating Jaws! Stop! Don’t do it! I don’t hate Jaws! I like Jaws! I’m a huge Spielberg fan! I just personally enjoy The Shallows more. Relax!)
The Shallows is part of a tight, three-way race for my favorite film of 2016. It is the exact sort of experience that only a well-crafted film can provide and everyone should go see it. This movie deserves your money. It deserves everyone’s money. I urge you to go out as soon as you can and reward The Shallows for a job remarkably well-done.