Are video games getting to be more like movies, or are movies acting more like video games? Gravity marked a leap forward in the melding of the two, in which a single character is put into an extreme situation and must get from stage to stage where they have to solve puzzles in order to win the movie. It was the closest to a feature-length edition of the Escape The Room genre since Saw II. Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows copies the Gravity formula, replacing Space and Asteroids with Random Mexican Beach and Shark. The Shallows is Gravity meets Jaws without the self-seriousness.
Nancy (Blake Lively) is on vacation after losing her mother to an extended disease. She took a break from becoming a medical doctor to catch some gnarly waves at a secret beach her mother used to frequent. How secret is the beach? It’s a beach that’s so secret it remains largely untouched by gringos. It’s so secret that nobody will tell her what it’s called. When she asks the name of the beach from her driver, he cautions her to be careful. It’s SO SECRET that she still gets strong enough cell phone reception to be able to face time with her family in Texas. I guess there aren’t enough tourists to clog the network or something.
The beach is so secret that Nancy only sees two other Mexican surfers trying to catch some waves for the entire day she’s there. After a bunch of close-up clothes changing, slow-motion surfing music videos and augmented reality
phone advertising back story, the other two surfers finally leave the beach in Nancy’s capable hands to catch the last wave. It’s then that she finally sees a GIGANTIC DEAD WHALE that seems to have attracted a group of scavenging seagulls. Along with the discovery of the gigantic dead whale is also the whale’s presumptive murderer, an asshole shark with a vendetta.
After an initial attack, Nancy finds herself having to survive on a rock just large enough to fit her and a hapless seagull (credited as Sully “Steven” Seagull), who acts as her very judgmental spirit animal. Occasionally, another person or two will wander in and out of the movie to do something fundamentally stupid, but almost the entire movie is Nancy vs Shark, and trying to get from location to location to solve whatever problem seems to arise.
Unlike Gravity, which has a heave sense of self-importance and gravitas, The Shallows is light, silly, and frequently hilarious in its stupidity. Where else are you going to find Blake Lively clinging to a dead whale carcass that’s being dragged by an angry shark? Will that movie have her screaming “Where are you taking me?!!?” The Shallows has both, and that’s just in the initial attack. It doesn’t shy away from the cheap or the crass, but all it wants to do is entertain.
Fortunately for us, The Shallows isn’t the found footage movie it threatens to be at the very beginning (dammit, movie, don’t give me a heart attack by finding a random GoPro on a beach). Instead, it’s like a gorgeous magazine pictorial meets a music video. Lushly oversaturated images make the most of its idyllic eye candy locale. The generic framing and structure make this look far more easy to do than it actually is.
If summer movies are supposed to be an excuse to get into some air conditioning without actually being bored to tears, then The Shallows is one of the ideal summer movies. You get all the visuals of going to the beach, Blake Lively in a neon bikini, thrills from a series of shark attacks with some actual tension, and a bunch of comic relief. It’s total genre fare, but you could do far far worse.
The only question I have is, how the hell didn’t she lose any of her necklaces or other accessories in the midst of her attacks?