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  • Rev Horror

The Shallows

Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra (2016)

A surfer is trapped just two hundred yards from the shore by a Great White.

Surfing is so fucking cool. As a Southern boy from Georgia who hasn't ever made it out to the much-better waves of the West Coast, I've been limited to mostly boogie boarding and skimming. It's a lot of fun, but it's nowhere near the type of insanity that you find when you're shredding fifteen foot tall waves with just your board beneath you. Maybe someday, I say, as I lounge in my new pool safe in the suburbs, far away from the thrills of the surf but entirely immune to sharks. I suppose that's a blessing, because I would absolutely not fare well in a fight for survival against a razor-toothed beach dinosaur, no matter how many Blake Livelys (Blake Livelies?) were there to save me.

Shortly after losing her mother and dropping out of med school, Nancy (Lively) has decided to take a trip to Mexico to visit the beach her mother surfed when she was pregnant. When the tide starts to go down, Nancy is stuck on an island two hundred yards from the shore after she is attacked and injured by a Great White shark. Stranded and in imminent danger, she must use every ounce of wit and determination within her to make her way back to shore and escape the terrifying monster lurking beneath the ocean's surface.

The Shallows, a.k.a. The Movie Where Blake Lively Spends Most of the Film in a Bikini, is an insular film, taking place almost entirely in one extremely small location. Nancy is stuck on an island when the tide goes down, able to see the shore and safety but being able to do almost nothing about it. There's something extra nefarious about knowing exactly what you need to do to survive and knowing that you simply can't make your way to it. It's also a surprisingly atmospheric film, with some gorgeous cinematography that focuses on both the terrifying shark presence during the day and the deadly dark silence of the sea at night. Making Nancy a med school student, and one who clearly knows her stuff, adds an extra layer to the survival horror and creates a character who is equipped to survive in a way that most horror characters are not.

Survival horror in general is a thrilling category, one in which we can easily see ourselves fitting and generally entirely devoid of the supernatural aura present in almost every other subgenre of horror. Man-against-Nature, as elemental as it is, is incredibly compelling. The inherent realness of a division of film from a genre known for its lack of veritas is especially impactful, allowing the audience to place themselves into the character's shoes without much effort at all. Insert a killing machine that is as brutal as it is unforgiving, and, well, you've got a recipe for a terrifying film. The Shallows is mainstream enough that it fails to contain a whole lot of scares, but it's still a fun as hell film that is chock-full of shark goodness.

The Shallows feels very similar to Jennifer's Body in that it's a movie that likely drew a certain type of movie fan despite containing a whole lot more than it appears. Yes, it's true that Blake Lively spends a good bit of the movie in a bikini, and it's probably true that a lot of people watched it just for that reason. It's also an excellent shark movie, a movie where pretty much everything works: the acting is fantastic, the shark is brutal and scary, and the tension climbs continually throughout the film in a way that speaks to a good filmmaker being in charge of the production. It's a little gimmicky at times, especially with the wristwatch overlay that dictates the time and the tide in the film, but it works, much more so than it would seem at first glance.

It's also only an hour and fifteen minutes long. It never overstays its welcome, and there's a lot of action to be had in such a tight package. The Shallows is far from the best shark movie, don't get me wrong, but it's also far, far from the worst. It's exciting, much more of a thriller than a horror, but it's still an excellent creature feature/survival horror with a fantastic actor in the lead. You can't ask for a whole lot more than that from a shark movie, and it's a complete story with no loose ends. If you're looking for some shark fun that's a little bit smarter than most, this is exactly the type of film that you want. Plus, and I can't stress this enough, Blake Lively spends most of the movie in a bikini. It that's the sort of thing that you're into.

Who this movie is for: Shark movie aficionados, Survival horror fans, Med school dropouts

Bottom line: The Shallows is much better than I thought it would be, and while it definitely leans into a few gimmicks and pulls back a little from becoming too brutal, it's exciting and stressful as films like this should be. Lively is excellent, and it's a great insular story with no loose ends. Actually good shark movies are hard to find, but this is one of the better ones in recent memory. If you haven't seen it before, I definitely recommend that you do so.

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