“You’re gonna need a bigger shark.”
That thought (and variation of an iconic line of dialogue) must have come up during the making of “The Shallows,” a ludicrous and blessedly brief borrowing of ideas from “Jaws,” “Jaws 2,” (the wonderfully titled 3-D film) “Jaws 3-D,” and “Jaws: The Revenge.” For the record, there was also a Russian film, released last year, called “Jaws 19” (honest), about a deadly shark that’s killed by the military, but comes back as a ghost, and keeps killing. Do not go out of your way to see it.
Take the same advice for “The Shallows,” a shark movie that has a couple of good plot elements and tense situations, but is bogged down by the cliches of slo-mo and speeded-up photography, and by endless underwater point of view shots looking up at delicious dangling feet. And though there are about a dozen characters among the cast, most of them are onscreen for a few minutes, tops, and this is really a one-person movie, with that one person either screaming in pain (this is what happens when a giant shark wraps its teeth around your thigh) or talking to herself and an unusually friendly seagull to pass the time while stranded on a rock 200 feet from shore.
That person is Nancy (Blake Lively), who heads from Texas to Tijuana to find and surf at a “lost beach” her late-mother used to tell her about. A guide drops her off, and it’s as beautiful and secluded as she had hoped, though she does chat with a couple of surfers in a way-out-on-the-pale-green-water cameo.
Then the alone time begins. Nancy gets to ride some big waves, and the action scenes are nicely shot (though a critic friend pointed out how obvious it was that we’re seeing Lively’s head digitally attached to some pro surfer’s body). Of course, you know there’s going to be trouble.
But some of it starts before there’s any hint of a shark. Director Jaume Collet-Serra had some success with a series of taut and tough films starring Liam Neeson (“Run all Night,” “Non-Stop,” “Unknown”) and made the terrific psychological horror “Orphan.” But this time out, with a screenplay by horror scripter Anthony Jaswinski (if only the last name was Jawsinski), Collet-Sera runs about like a kid who’s playing with too many toys, keeping the visuals too busy, cluttering the screen with visuals-with-visuals, and as in the surfing scenes, relying too much on digital technology. I would bet that there isn’t one second of actual shark footage in the film.
When this big fish appears, it looks too real to be real.
Yet the fact that a shark is in these supposedly shark-free waters and ends up dining on a few extras as appetizers while hoping for Nancy as an entree is one of the few things that isn’t farfetched here. She’s blissfully unaware that she’s surfing near a dead whale that the shark has been nibbling on. In other words, she inadvertently swam into the shark’s feeding ground.
And soon, stuck on that rock, bleeding profusely (good thing the script has made her a medical school dropout, so she has at least a clue of how to stem the blood flow), the shark circling, the tide rising and threatening to cover the rock (man, there’s a lot going on in a practically wordless movie), she gets to figuring out how to survive.
Well, she’s as resourceful as MacGyver in getting out of tight spots. And when there’s a big underwater altercation with the big toothy guy (during which there’s so much movement going on, it’s hard to tell what actually happens), she also gets pretty lucky. But it’s all capped off with a tacked-on, totally unnecessary, “one-year-later” ending that makes the film sink like a dead shark.
— Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Written by Anthony Jaswinski; directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
With Blake Lively
Movie review: The Shallows’ is a shallow shark saga
“You’re gonna need a bigger shark.”