Looking back, prior to Jaume Collet-Serra's The Shallows, there have really only been two or three truly great pieces of shark cinema - Jaws, obviously, plus Open Water and then, to a lesser extent, Renny Harlin's uproariously campy Deep Blue Sea. (One, I suppose, could make an argument for Jaws 2 as well, though I see it as merely watchable, a middling retread of the classic first.) For the most part, it seems the shark genre has been hijacked by the SyFy Channel and its egregiously silly, low-budget TV movie programming.
Collet-Serra's picture, while no Jaws, is enjoyable on the same level as the Harlin film - a fun, if fleeting B-movie, perfect for a film night while on a beach vacation.
Blake Lively, in a performance much-improved from, well, just about everything she's done thus far, carries the film as Nancy, a medical student who seeks solace at a secluded, nameless beach following the death of her mother. In gorgeously filmed scenes that are right on-par with the original Point Break in excitement, Nancy embarks on a day of surfing and strikes up a conversation with a couple of local surf bros.
Trouble strikes, however, when Nancy comes upon a whale carcass afloat, about 200 yards from shore, and draws the interest of an aggressive and awfully hungry great white shark. An injured Nancy manages to swim over to a nearby rock for safety, where, like Tom Hanks to Wilson, she befriends an injured seagull (who at times manages to upstage Lively), but it's inevitable that if Nancy wants to survive this mess, she'll need a plan of action to get back to shore without becoming shark supper.
At 86 minutes, The Shallows flies by in no time, especially with the action starting fairly early on in the picture. Collet-Serra employs a few audience-interactive devices on the screen that are a bit distracting at first but more effective as the film progresses. The script, by Anthony Jaswinski, has its fair share of clunky, cornball dialogue, particularly in the early-going, but once Lively moves into Linda Hamilton mode, the picture becomes far more a feast for the eyes than ears.
I've read comparisons between The Shallows and Gravity, with water, Lively and a seagull, instead of space, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. I think that's a decent parallel but the film also reminded me a lot of 127 Hours - that is, a nicely photographed one-man/woman-stranded show, headlined by an performer not typically known for their acting gravitas, yet committed-enough to make it all work.
The Shallows, while not quite must-see material, is nonetheless one of the more pleasant summer surprises.