Let’s just address this right out of the gate: it’s impossible to watch a film about sharks, or shark attacks, without making comparisons to Jaws. But just because Spielberg’s masterpiece is still the greatest shark-related film of all time doesn’t mean that other directors can’t bring something new to the table, and that’s the crux of Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows, which finds a surfer stranded a few hundred yards from the beach while a hungry predator lurks in the water.
On a trip to Mexico to visit her mother’s favorite vacation spot, Nancy (Blake Lively) spends the afternoon catching waves with a couple of locals. It’s a great day in paradise, until she ventures too close to a whale carcass floating nearby and runs afoul of its killer, a vicious shark that upends her board and tears a huge chunk out of her thigh. Nancy manages to swim to a rock formation and climb out of the water, but she’s rapidly losing blood and her attacker is hungry for a fresh meal.
Lively does a superb job of carrying the film on her shoulders – she’s the only character onscreen for roughly 80 percent of the running time – and her performance showcases an impressive range as Nancy goes through the entire spectrum of emotion. There’s a bit of a 127 Hours vibe going on – an isolated protagonist faced with a hopeless predicament, and no chance of help arriving – but the constant menace of the aquatic killing machine adds an entertaining new wrinkle to the formula.
The Blu-ray release of The Shallows features a jaw-dropping video transfer that highlights the stunning environments captured by Collet-Serra and his cinematographer, shooting off the Australian coast near Lord Howe Island. Greens and blues are incredibly vibrant, and there’s so much color saturation that at times it looks like the film has been put through an Instagram filter – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it’s gorgeous, and the 5.1 audio track is solid, if a bit underwhelming.
The special features are where The Shallows suffers the most, offering a trio of deleted scenes and four featurettes, none of which run longer than seven minutes. When Sharks Attack is the most interesting, as experts weigh in on the nature of real-life attacks, and a survivor discusses his own experiences, but overall the extras just feel lacking. A director’s commentary would have been a major plus here, and I would have loved some insight into some of the choices Collet-Serra made over the course of the film.
Overall, The Shallows is a decent thriller that gets a little too silly during its final moments, but offers great tension up until that point. It looks fantastic – no doubt thanks to the eye-popping scenery – but the supplemental materials will likely be disappointing to anyone hoping to go beyond the surface.
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