Shark movies are nothing new; 1975 Steven Spielberg classic “Jaws” may not have been the first, but it certainly popularized and solidified the sub-genre. In recent years, there’s been a resurgence ranging from thriller “Open Water” to the slapstick “Sharknado” franchise. “The Shallows” makes waves as a tense breaker of a film, which despite several tropes manages to succeed for what it is: a taut shark attack thriller.
Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) visits a remote beach to surf, the same beach where her mother traveled to surf after discovering she was pregnant with Nancy. Her mother having recently passed away, this surfing trip is something of a pilgrimage. A local inhabitant, Carlos (Oscar Jaenada) gives her a ride, and soon Nancy is suited up and surfing, having made the acquaintance of two fellow surfers.
The serene day takes a nasty turn when Nancy follows a pack of dolphins and discovers a whale carcass floating in the ocean. Wandering into what happens to be a great white shark’s feeding ground, she’s attacked, wounded, and stranded without her surfboard. From here, it’s a battle of survival, with Nancy armed with her wit and resourcefulness.
Lively’s performance is remarkable, as “The Shallows” is nearly a one-member production. A handful of characters, most unidentified, wander into the story briefly, and her father (Brett Cullen) and younger sister Chloe (Sedona Legge) are seen quickly. Nancy’s self-dialogue and non-verbal communication drive the film, aided by gorgeous cinematography. “The Shallows” is worth watching if simply for the breath-taking scenery, notably several underwater shots.
Action and tension maintain a steady ebb and flow, and at that “The Shallows” is enormously successful. Unfortunately, the narrative is riddled with clichés, and like so many other genre entries, jumps the shark. While Nancy’s backstory is emotionally investing, it’s rather trite: the spiritual journey, struggle with med school, struggling with a foreign language, and concerned family members are nothing new. These tried plot devices would detract from the overall movie, but thankfully Lively’s superb acting, technically excellent cinematography, and a gripping tale detract from stale story elements. Ultimately, though “The Shallows” is not without its shallow moments, there’s enough depth and excitement to make it worth the ride.