Beware of sentimental excursions in The Shallows. Jaume Collet-Serra’s film centers on a med-school dropout, Nancy (Blake Lively), who travels to a far-flung, impossibly gorgeous beach in Mexico, to surf. Without obfuscating the natural lushness of the setting, Collet-Serra finds visual ways to use Instagram and FaceTime to establish the exposition: that this beautiful beach is the very beach Nancy’s mom took Nancy as a child, that Nancy’s mom died of cancer, that Nancy has a sister she’s effectively mothered and a protective dad whom she calls “Papa.” Unfortunately the surfing is somewhat contrived, at least to someone who’s surfed before: Collet-Serra misfires tonally, trying to create suspense where there is none as Nancy paddles against the current as she should; and it is clear that Blake Lively’s smiling face is CGI’ed onto a pro surfer’s body as she rides some of the bigger waves, although Lively definitely worked hard for the movie. The male gaze cinematography and stunning overhead panoramas of the ocean and beach make The Shallows pretty to look at until the inciting incident: the shark attack. Then the sky and water turn gloomy to reflect the change in mood. The rest of the movie, the survival narrative, is averagely entertaining, with some B-movie horror delights, an exciting climax, and a subplot with a wounded bird named “Steven Seagull.” But what’s disappointing about The Shallows is that, besides some clever med-school talk, Nancy is too poised. Writer Anthony Jaswinski could have made her melt-down more interesting while staying in line with the PG-13 guidelines. Instead The Shallows becomes about Nancy’s connection to her dead mother, making it reminiscent of Gravity, also a survival narrative in which a deceased loved-one is used as spiritual succor.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White