It has been 42 years since Steven Spielberg’s killer shark blockbuster Jaws splashed onto the big-screen, scaring audiences off the beaches and changing the movie industry forever.
Inspired by the immense cultural – and financial – success of Jaws, many filmmakers were more than willing to jump in the water and try to emulate the magic of this fearsome mechanical shark. But they soon realised the shark movie formula was not as simple as it seemed. Post Jaws, many films failed while others slipped into mindless parody.
That was until last summer, when Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra broke the curse of Jaws with his stylish B-movie The Shallows.
Nancy (Blake Lively), a young Texan surfer and medical student, hitches a ride to a ‘secret’ Mexican beach which holds deep sentimental value following the loss of her mother to cancer.
As a Latin cover of Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side plays, Nancy receives a text from her hung-over friend who is still nursing a headache in the hotel room. Unperturbed, Nancy arrives at the secluded beach and unleashes a beaming smile. It is just as idyllic as her mother’s photos showed it to be.
Nancy pulls on her wetsuit (Collet-Serra’s camera lingers on her bikini for some time) and gets in the water to catch some waves.
The next five minutes are spent in surf heaven with a delicious montage of Nancy in the water, cut to vibrant music. If Collet-Serra and cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano fancy making a surf movie I am sold straightaway.
That being said, they still throw in a menacing prelude in the form of muffled silence when the camera plunges below the water’s surface. Danger awaits.
This comes when Nancy decides to catch one more wave before dark. She discovers a giant whale carcass and quickly finds herself under-attack from the perpetrator – a colossal shark.
Nancy somehow escapes its deadly jaws to the refuge of a nearby rock, albeit with a horrific wound on her leg. As the shark circles, she must find a way out of her terrifying situation and back to the safety of land.
The Shallows is immensely fun and highly-watchable. I was lucky enough to first see the film in a theatre full of enthusiastic adolescents, ready to immerse themselves in every scare.
I am sure they appreciated the lean 87 minute runtime which maintains a zippy and engrossing pace.
Even still, it is a long time for the superb Blake Lively (I would love to see her in more of these daring roles) to carry the film, especially given that her most prominently featured co-star is an injured seagull which inhabits the rock with her. Fortunately, Collet-Serra finds inventive ways to prevent cinematic gangrene setting in.
The best spoiler-free comment I can make concerns the film’s slick visual style. Labiano’s energetic camera seems to come from every direction. One moment, it floats on the surface of the water. The next, it sinisterly looks up from the depths, and the next it gives an aerial view revealing the expansive beauty – and danger – of the sea.
The intensity of colours also gives life to the stationary setting. During the happier surfing moments, the turquoise blue of the water will leave you yearning for a beach holiday. This tranquil setting soon becomes nightmarish as the sky fills with a heavy grey clouds and the water morphs into a menacing dark blue, which occasionally turns crimson.
The Shallows is a film that thrives primarily on singularities (one character and one location) and simplicities (a fun and straight-forward script). It is self-aware, clever and playful.
Finally, we have a shark movie that is good enough to sit alongside Jaws. I suggest you watch The Shallows, preferably with some easily scared friends.
Apart from Jaws, what is your favourite killer shark film?
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The Shallows – 4/5
Dir – Jaume Collet-Serra
Scr – Anthony Jaswinski
Cast: Blake Lively
DOP – Flavio Martinez Labiano
Music – Marco Beltrami
Runtime: 1hr 27
Also read: Whiplash (Film Review)