A film starring Blake Lively wearing a bikini for the entire duration while trying to avoid getting eaten by a killer shark sounds like “Male Gaze: The Movie”, however the aquatic thriller released yesterday on Blu-ray and DVD is much more than shots of a sexy blond woman’s butt. Instead, The Shallows is the story of a intelligent and strong woman battling one of nature’s deadliest foes. Think Castaway with Wilson replaced by “Steven Seagull” and a shark circuling (throw in a little dash of MacGuyver for good measure).
Blake Lively stars as Nancy Adams, a med school student contemplating leaving school after recently losing her mother who loves to surf. In order to honor her mother’s memory, Nancy travels to the beaches of Mexico in search of the secluded beach that her mother always spoke of. With the help of a generous and kind local, she finds the beach. She suits up, grabs her board, and heads into the beautiful surf. She enjoys some playful banter with a couple of locals, whom are the only other people at this beach. After they finish surfing, she decides to catch one final wave. She notices a rotting carcass of a dying humpback whale and heads over to it to explore. Soon after this, she hops on that last wave to head on into the shore… but she and the whale aren’t alone. After the shark attacks her board and attacks her, she is forced to an isolated rock in the middle of the cove, away from any other land. There is where she remains, waiting for the tide to come up and eventually steal away her safety.
Even if we were to reveal the rest of the film here, it wouldn’t be much of a spoiler, as the film’s entire plot is basically summarized above. With only a few characters and only one setting, the plot is not where the genius of the film lies. What makes this film special is the tension built by Nancy’s fight to survive in the face of imminent danger. She is not only fighting for her life with the shark, but she is also in battles with time and with the other elements of the cove. Whether she is powering through the pain inflicted to her by poisonous coral or swimming through a school of the most intimidating jellyfish in the world, danger lurks all around her in an ecosystem built to defend itself. Her strength, in conjunction with her medical training and ingenuity, gets her through every surfer’s nightmare scenario.
The film is extremely well shot and the breathtaking beauty of the secluded Mexican beach is incomparable. The small cast, notably Lively, hit all the right notes. In fact, in this film, Lively seems to have found her niche in this role. Despite her lackluster performances of the past, she carries this film with ease. The look of the film coupled with Lively’s strong performance makes this film, at worst, a solid B/B+. Moreover, there’s a fair argument to be made that The Shallows is the best Summer film (albeit in a weak 2016 crop). It’s not Jaws, but it may just be the best shark film since.