Catching Up: The Shallows (2016)
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada, Sedona Legge, Brett Cullen, Angelo José Lozano Corz, José Manuel Trujillo Salas, Pablo Calva
The Shallows is, for the most part, a decent little B-movie. Not a great B-movie, or even a good one, but decent. Its plot is as simple as you can get (which is as it should be), there are a couple of mildly suspenseful segments, the camera work is often breathtakingly beautiful, and Blake Lively is commanding enough to keep the audience engaged throughout. Director Jaume Collet-Serra is wise to keep the villainous shark here off screen for much of the film, because he does look really chintzy (although given the kind of movie this is, that’s easy enough to forgive).
If you shut your brain off during the first 70 minutes of the film, the movie does entertain on a guilty pleasure level. But then something happens during the movie’s final moments. The movie takes a turn that is so stupid, so ludicrous, so painfully over-the-top that it doesn’t just shatter what good will was earned by that point, it annihilates it until there's none left. Were it not for the abysmal Ethan Hawke thriller Regression (my choice for the worst movie of this year), I’d argue that The Shallows would have the absolute dumbest ending of 2016.
Blake Lively stars as Nancy Adams, a medical student from Texas who travels to a secluded beach in Mexico in memory of her mother, who died from cancer some time before. The beach has a special significance to her; it’s the place where her mother discovered that she was pregnant with Nancy. A friendly local named Carlos (Oscar Jaenada), who is also a complete stranger to Nancy, offers to give her a ride to the beach, and jokingly refuses to tell her the beach’s name. “That’s how you wind up on Nancy Grace,” Nancy’s kid sister Chloe (Sedona Legge) tells her during a facetime chat.
She meets two other surfers out on the beach, and they catch a number of pretty big waves for a couple of hours. Nancy says she’s going to try to catch one final wave before calling it a night, goes out pretty far to catch one, and happens upon the partially eaten carcass of a humpback whale. The dead whale is actually the feeding ground for a really pissy great white shark, and the beast makes it his mission to kill Nancy for disturbing his meal. She manages to make it safely onto a rock 200 yards from shore, with no one for a companion save an injured seagull she nick names, and I’m not making this up, Steven Seagull.
A couple of people stop by the beach the next day, but they don’t survive long enough to offer Nancy much assistance. The first is a local drunk who passed out on the beach, robs Nancy of her cell phone and cash in a back pack she has on shore, and is eventually bitten in half when he swims out to try and steal her surf board (this scene is effective because the attack takes place off screen; the camera keeps the focus on Nancy’s horrified face). The two surfers from the day before (one of whom wears a camera helmet that, according to the movie’s prologue, plays a pivotal role in Nancy’s survival) show up again, but they're dispatched of quickly as well.
The bulk of the movie is a one woman show, as Nancy tries to use her intelligence to outsmart the shark, fixes the seagull’s damaged wing, and swims to a nearby buoy (through an army of jelly fish) before hide tide puts her little rock island under water. It is when she swims over to the buoy that the movie begins its downward spiral. It leads to final fight between Nancy and the shark, where she uses one of buoy’s anchor chains to…well, I won’t spoil it for you. Let’s just say that it would be ridiculous even in a James Bond movie.
And then comes the movie’s very last scene, the one that occurs after the “One Year Later” title card. Was that scene really necessary? Did we need such an on-the-nose denouement that would feel hokey even in a WB teen drama like 7th Heaven? I don’t frickin’ think so. The Shallows has enough going for it to pass the time as a check-your-brain-at-the-door entertainment, and the sight of Blake Lively in a swimsuit doesn’t hurt either (Ryan Reynolds, if you’re reading this, please don’t kick by butt). But good Lord, that ending!
Rated PG-13 (although it flirts with an R) for violence, blood and gore, some strong language
Final Grade: ** (out of ****)