Saturday 10 April 2021

From the archive: "The Shallows"

Sometimes all you really need to make a movie is a girl, a gull and a shark. 2016's The Shallows, a nifty B-movie from the increasingly reliable Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, Run All Night), plays something like a 40th anniversary rethink of Jaws, paring away all that Spielbergian context that made its inspiration drag in spots, and leaving us with a stark image of survival: bikini-clad Texan surfer Nancy (Blake Lively), stranded some way out in the brine of an isolated bay down Mexico way, having been removed of her board by a sharp-toothed monster of the deep who fancies a piece or two of her for dinner. After a flashy, grabby widescreen prologue, it soon reshapes into an action movie with an unusually tight focus. Stuck on a rock in the wake of the initial shark attack, and resembling a mermaid in distress, Nancy is obliged to make small, life-or-death choices: between using her wetsuit to tourniquet her wounds or keep herself warm, between staying where she is and splashing out to retrieve her board. For much of the running time, our heroine is playing defence, attempting simply to keep herself alive. One further point of reference might have been the gripping Icelandic drama The Deep, though Collet-Serra can't quite sustain that film's high level of quality control: there's a bit of nonsense with that improbably well-behaved gull (who serves the same narrative purpose as Wilson the volleyball in Cast Away), several elements we're clearly not meant to dwell on (why don't the two surfers spot the conspicuous corpse on the beach?), and an outright misstep involving a cloud of CG jellyfish. Still, it keeps moving, and Collet-Serra thinks most of his material through, getting around any accusations the film might be objectifying its lissom blonde lead first by handing Lively a resilient, resourceful character to play, then by making everything else around her look no less bodacious. The claims some made for it around the time of theatrical release now look a touch elevated, but it's an efficient and effective job of work.

(April 2019)

The Shallows screens on Channel 4 at 11.25pm tonight, and is also available to stream via Prime Video.

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