Shallows, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/29/16 13:22:55

"Simple escapism that gets it done quickly."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Looking at a Pulp Covers blog a few weeks ago, I noted that men's magazines of the 1950s seemed to alternate between scantily-clad women and first-person narratives of unlikely survival, although you seldom saw both in the same place. Would the consumers of those magazines, I wonder, see "The Shallows" as a holy grail unifying all that is good about entertainment or a wholly misguided attempt to combine two things meant to be kept separate.Or, perhaps, something in between, a capable bit of entertainment that delivers the shark-based suspense it promises and doesn't get bogged down doing so.

A quick flash-forward promises mayhem, we meet Nancy (Blake Lively), who is in Mexico to surf the secret beach her mother visited while while pregnant with her twenty-five years ago. It's a great beach, and she meets a couple of nice guys there... and then, while catching one last wave as they depart, she finds a whale carcass, with the shark that killed it between her and the shore.

It's an elegantly simple set-up, and the temptation to complicate it must have been immense, wither with more characters or flashbacks to her family that go beyond a few photographs stored on her phone. Instead, writer Anthony Jaswinski and director Jaume Collet-Serra are able to treat a sleek 87-minute length as spacious, with time to watch Nancy consider her situation and next move between scenes where she confronts the shark while still having plenty of those. It's impressive restraint on the part of Jaswinski, Collet-Serra, and editor Joel Negron; they could have padded it out five more minutes and potentially wrecked the pacing, or worried earlier on about pinning its success to one actress. Instead, they keep focused on what the audience wants to see, giving that audience just enough time to breathe but not enough that they might want more.

Pinning the movie on one actress is a pretty risky move, considering that Lively's work has often been closer to capable than engrossing. That fits her here; for all that she's amiable enough when put in a scene with another person, there's something kind of perfunctory about every time she has to talk with someone about what's going on with Nancy and how she's dealing with her mother's death; it seems like this should be more immediate than the text messages thrown up on the screen from her phone, but that's not always the case. Given that, she does surprisingly well on her own, whether sitting and thinking or methodically trying to deal with her injuries and that of a seagull with a dislocated wing. She's not bad at showing the wheels in her head turning between actions.

She's got help; Collet-Serra may not be one of the great action directors of his day but he's a guy who get the job done, doing things like making sure that the audience has a complete picture of where the whale, a bouy, and a rocky outcropping are in relation to the beach and each other and making sure that an action scene where Nancy's and the shark's movements are important isn't cut to hell. He holds the shark in reserve without seeming cute about it, making its attacks on the non-Lively cast members vicious and gory enough that he doesn't have to load up on extra cast to keep things moving, and by the end, it's not hard for the audience to have a visceral stake in the final battle.

It's straightforward stuff, but, then, so are the pulps it recalls, made to be enjoyed in the moment rather than proudly displayed on the shelf. "The Shallows" delivers what it promises and doesn't dress it up as much more, and given that it does so quickly, that's good enough for a recommendation.

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