Shark movies are one of those populations-scarers having the misfortune of peaking too early. Nary a good one has been made, and everyone’s kinda given up since Jaws did it better four decades ago – all too eagerly passing the hot potato for Sharknado to satirise a mildy-amusing monstrosity.
The mistake made by most is their fixation with the horror of shark attacks, not the thought of them. Attacks barely happen, but humans suck in water, and sharks do not. The idea of being so vulnerable, however unlikely, is the fiddle The Shallows more wisely plays to. Going for a more subtle, isolationist character story in the vein of Castaway or Buried.
Blake Lively’s stranded on a rock with sergeant seagull, circled by an unfortunately large shark like a moat around a castle. Like any good suspense-thriller – you see little of the stalker – minus the finale, when the movie turns into a MacGyver/Ripley battle of animal ambush.
The Shallows is a shark movie that doesn’t care other shark movies exist. Innocent of the many failings associated with such stories – it’s a purer kind of shark story, and something of a dinosaur, in only the best of ways. The in-between moments when the great white doesn’t show are some of the best, and there are many. The very thought of the shark can feel as daunting as the creature itself.
There’s a soul-searching story to why Blake Lively is alone on a Mexican beach. Whilst it does provide background, motivation and all that joop-jazz which could’ve been more important – it didn’t really need to be. The inevitable strength lies in the mental duel she has with herself and the carnivorous nemesis.
I have a fondness for Claustrophobic movies like 127 Hours and Phonebooth. Being stuck somewhere motivates psychological creativity to keep an otherwise motionless event interesting. The emotional puzzle comprising one person will always be more interesting than the globe-trotting adventure of many. The Shallows does this best during the horror of its character’s circumstances – when her charm and humour have to cope against the fear and panic. Not her video-chatting family problems. More than anything else it’s a shark movie that makes you feel as helpless as a shark movie should.
Or you could just see it for Blake Lively in a bikini.