The Shallows Offers Deep Dives into Suspense

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Nancy (Blake Lively) holds onto hope and an old buoy to survive a shark attack in THE SHALLOWS.

The Shallows is a terrifying tale about a young woman in the wrong place at the wrong time. Seeking a journey of self-discovery Nancy (Blake Lively) has ventured out to a secret beach to surf—a place whispered about by her recently deceased mother. Upon finding the locale, Nancy enjoys a day of riding waves, and even makes a few friends. However, when the beach empties and Nancy decides to go out for one last ride, a shark attacks leaving her wounded and stranded on a rock roughly 200 yards from shore. With high tide impending, Nancy must find a way to survive if she hopes to stay alive.

What works in The Shallows is the intelligence and the suspense. Lively’s character, revealed to be a medical student, makes rationale choices and often thinks her way out of problems in order of importance. She tries and fails, and adjusts to new unexpected issues as they arise. All of these actions make the character interest and sympathetic—the audience will find themselves rooting for her, and that’s important when Lively takes up the majority of the screen time.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra does great work with the suspenseful moments and beats. The shark is almost exclusively viewed from the vantage point of the human eyes, making its presence elusive and thus more terrifying. Attacks come, realistically, without warning. Audiences are likely to jump and wince along with the main character, and may even involuntarily scream or gasp during certain well-choreographed sequences.

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While The Shallows relies heavily on strong work from Lively as a empowered heroine, and <name>’s ability to set a chilling mood, ultimately some pacing issues dilute the final product. While the thrills are high, the troughs between them are slightly long and repetitive. The Shallows takes a while to deliver on the central premise of a shark attack film, and that time is spent meandering on character backstory, perhaps being a little too overt on what elements from Nancy’s past will likely be important in the next few hours. This would be acceptable if once the inevitable and expected attack occurs the film maintained a faster beat, but the quiet moments are dull when they are likely intended to lull.

The Shallows is a well-crafted engaging film in an incredible niche sub-genre. Lively and Collet-Serra pull it together convincingly, despite a few issues with the overall pace. Definitely recommended for all those who celebrate shark week.

Grade: B+

Photos courtesy of Columbia Pictues