Warning: This review contains spoilers, so don’t go swimming if you don’t want to get bitten by them.
I was looking forward to The Shallows the way a 5-year-old looks forward to Christmas morning, because it’s about Blake Lively fighting a shark. “Blake Lively fights a shark” sounds like the best fever dream I never had, and yet here it was, come to life. I thought I was prepared for anything from the movie–good, bad, crazy, stupid, scary, funny, suspenseful–I thought anything was possible from a movie where Blake Lively fights a shark.
And somehow I was still caught off guard, because I never expected it to be boring.
That’s right, a movie where Blake Lively the surfer gets stuck on a rock close to the shore of a hidden Mexican beach, but can’t swim back because a massive shark is circling her, waiting to murder (but not eat!) her, was overwhelmingly boring.
If your pitch is “Blake Lively fights a shark,” you have to understand your entire premise is absurd, and you need to embrace that, because that’s a super fun concept, but one that has obvious limitations. A silly idea with a big budget, featuring amazing special effects and a beautiful young star, is a recipe for a Hall-of-Fame B-movie, the kind you end up seeing at midnight showings for the next thirty years. Instead, director Jaume Collet-Serra (Run All Night) decided to make a sincere survival movie (that is a far better description than horror, which should let you know this script had some issues) that wanted to be genuinely good. What he ended up with isn’t bad per se; it’s just boring.
There are some things to like here: the movie looks pretty, it has possibly the best CGI shark in cinematic history, and it got a genuine effort from its star. Blake Lively, who again, fights a shark, did exactly what she should have and gave a sincere effort. It’s actually frustrating because an honest performance would have worked wonderfully in the movie I wish they had made.
Even when the shark attacked, for as good as those scenes looked, it was somehow never surprising. They are constantly foreshadowed or blatantly obvious, killing most of the suspense that should have been foolproof. Also, the score did nothing to enhance the atmosphere the way it should in a good suspense film.
Blake Lively, when not fighting the shark, spends most of the movie dealing with the massive shark bite in her leg. If that seems unlikely, don’t worry, her Nancy is a medical student who not only knows how to turn earrings into painful stitches, but who is kind enough to narrate what she is doing so we understand. (No, it’s not unintentionally funny; it just feels lazy.)
The movie only has a run time of 87 minutes, but unfortunately the best part of the first 60 is when Nancy talks to her Wilson-the-volleyball from Castaway equivalent, Steven Seagull, an injured bird who hangs out on the rock with her and is smarter than most humans.
The good news is that finally, for the last 15 to 20 minutes, the movie realizes it is about Blake Lively fighting a shark, and things finally get silly enough to be a lot of over-the-top fun. It starts when she finds herself in the underwater equivalent of Avatar‘s Pandora, when purple glowing jellyfish create an absurd visual, and then a flare gun ends up temporarily setting the shark on fire. The final showdown of Blake Lively fighting a shark, though, was everything you’d want it to be. You can really just skip ahead to the last 15 minutes, watch the final battle, and then just imagine the rest of the movie was as equally absurd, and you’ll be better of for it.
Speaking of the shark, he was so mean! There is a giant dead whale in the water, which is what attracted him there in the first place, but instead of eating it he just decides to start hunting down people for sport (yes, like Indominus Rex). He doesn’t seem to actually eat anybody, just bite them in two. The shark is really just a serial killer, which is better characterization than any character outside of Blake Lively’s shark-fighting Nancy (and the Seagull).
I couldn’t wait for The Shallows, because, again, it has Blake Lively fighting a shark, but then it made me wait 60 more minutes for the movie I was hoping to see.
I’m definitely going to re-watch the last 20 minutes a thousand more times, but I’d rather spend an hour stranded on an actual rock in the ocean than watch the first 60 minutes again.
What did you think of The Shallows? Tell us in the comments below.
Images: Sony Pictures