The Shallows [Review by SpecialK]
Ah, summer. Barbecues, beach balls, blueberry pie, and of course, blockbusters. That’s right, you’re not officially celebrating the season until you’ve watched a film’s blonde bombshell protagonist struggle to zip her wetsuit over her bountiful bikini. Don’t bother asking what it has to do with the plot or her character, because hey, it’s summer.
That’s basically The Shallows in a nutshell. Really, I could end this review right here. But would I ever cheat you horror hounds out of a terrorific slant on a summer release this big? No way.
In The Shallows, Nancy (Blake Lively) is in pursuit of self-discovery in the wake of her mom’s death and her own subsequent withdrawal from medical school. (Brexit? Dr.exit? No? Too soon?) She tracks down a secluded unnamed beach in Mexico that her mom visited while pregnant with her, and Nancy finds her own nirvana there while riding a few rad waves. Catching one last swell alone at the end of the day, Nancy gets knocked off her board and attacked off-screen by a giant shark. (I know, right? Off-screen? I mean, is this horror or not? Turns out not—but please, read on).
Nancy desperately swims to a rotting whale beached on a crop of coral, and the game of “quick, find something new to swim to” begins. She seeks help from passing beachgoers, but her efforts only result in more tragedy, until this scantily-clad starlet decides to take matters into her own hands.
It’s a pretty well-established rule that the lead actor has to carry a film like this, especially when surfers #1-4 comprise half of the cast list, and a Wilson-from-Cast Away-inspired bird gets more screen time than any other secondary character. (By the way, Sully “Steven” Seagull, your work was magical, and your future is bright).
But unfortunately, Lively’s pained groans and self chatter are no more believable than the computer-generated version of her face floating in front of the head of her stunt double in every full-body surfing shot. Beholding her performance feels like watching a high school drama student struggle through a scene in a spring production. But I digress.
About halfway through the slow-to-develop film, I find myself conflicted. Yes, the acting is shoddy, some of the special effects are laughable, and the Megalodon-sized shark falls well short of Jaws-level terror. And yes, for a moment, this horrorista is disappointed to realize that she will not have to shield her eyes once during the film. But yet, somehow, I am still enjoying myself.
Here’s why. The Shallows bathes you in magnificently sweeping, tropical landscapes, lava lamp-esque slo-mo waves, acrobatic underwater dives, and a sluggish, dreamy mood that unfolds andante. Even when the suspense picks up, the film never really lets you worry about what will happen next. It’s truly a summer hit you can dive into.
Once I accepted that it was pointless to question why I was staring at yet another full-screen shot of Lively’s tush, and once I stopped anticipating when the film would finally take a terrifying turn, I really did enjoy watching it.
Was it a scary film? No. Was it an objectively good film? No. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I loved feeling like a kid again. It was like watching one of those middle school era summer blockbusters—before Facebook, before smart phones, even before cell phones, when mom had to drive you to the theater and you watched Lost World: Jurassic Park with a row of your friends, your biggest worry being whether you’d get to sit next to your crush. Yes, you knew it wouldn’t be the best movie, but how bad can it be when school is out for three months and you don’t have a care in the world?
And the best part? It turns out that there are at least a few chilling scenes in The Shallows, and its climax delivers a classically satisfying resolution. In the end, I leave the film feeling like I rode the waves of my own expectations and washed up onto a sandy, sunny shore.
SpecialK Verdict: Far from terrifying, but quite a treat once you accept this classic summer suspense for what it is. See it one lazy afternoon while it’s still in theaters, and pretend for a moment that school is out.
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