The Shallows follows Blake Lively as she attempts to survive a shark attack on a remote beach. The plot is plainly straightforward, and introduces little by means of originality, but still managed to impress me...somehow beyond the maximum amount of bikini-clad close-ups that a PG-13 can muster.
The Shallows plot is dangerously close to the story of one of my favorite horror films (and one I consider severely underrated), Rogue. In fact, if you've seen Rogue, replace the crocodile with a shark and the tourists with beach bums and you've pretty much got The Shallows. Well, almost...throw in a little bit of Castaway ingenuity and Jaws thrills and now you have The Shallows. Like I said, the film wasn't heavy on the originality. So how did I find it impressive?
I rather enjoyed the cinematography. I found it to be more beautiful than given credit for. Sure, the subject matter and scenery made it easy, but still, it managed to retain my interest before the shark made its appearance. I found the build up to the shark's introduction to be very well made. I loved the commentary to traditional American tourists and their interaction with locals. This film was almost a satire of other horror films that show Americans on foreign soil, in that the interactions were much more real and grounded. Frankly, it was nice to see Americans not acting like loud, inconsiderate idiots and locals not being closet maniacs with a penchant for serial murder and/or the black market organ trade. There was a balance that actually grounded the film.
Since building a robotic shark in modern film would seem ludicrous, we are forced to settle for CGI in nearly every underwater creature feature beyond the 80's. In this case, I found the shark to be well-made. There was a scene with computer generated dolphins that seemed completely unnecessary. They were surprisingly fake...and I was filled with dread for what was to come with the shark, but it seemed, to me, to be much more realistic than the high-gloss mammals we see early on.
The focus on means of survival and not merely the shark was necessary given the plot, and it also helped drive the situation beyond a 15 minute short. It didn't feel forced and was well performed by Lively. With the help of a bird, a few bystanders and our villainous shark, Lively wasn't left to the fate of Tom Hanks to carry the film entirely by herself, but in the extensive segments in the film in which she had to, she did quite well.
The Shallows is no masterpiece, but I have seen several panning reviews that I simply don't agree with. Even if you see the PG-13 rating and feel a yawn coming on, I genuinely had to double-check the rating after seeing the level of violence the film was able to get away with. I'm not saying its your traditional horror film's bloodbath, but I also didn't find it to be a snooze fest by any means either. Perhaps I am chaining myself to the proverbial tree for something that simply isn't that good, but I found enough value in the production to argue it's worth a watch.