Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming: Our Review of The Shallows (Spoilers Ahead)

(cue John Oliver expression) Kudos, Dory. Kudos.

That’ll come back into play, much like the stereotypically-interpreted cold opening, later in this review.

It’s no secret that one of Jaws’ greatest strengths is that we don’t get a good look at the antagonistic shark until the third act.‘ – ConsequenceOfSound.net’s Dan Caffrey.

‘(The Beach) tells the story of an American college-aged kid traveling abroad (…) who (…) seeks out an (…) a secluded island paradise. They find the titular beach.‘ – The Atlantic’s Joe Reid on director Danny Boyle’s Leonardo Di Caprio film, The Beach.

Post-The Shallows, the aforementioned are the greatest influences that come to mind. While director Jaume Collet-Serra’s Blake Lively-starring film isn’t explicitly derivative by any means, it uses elements, from a very simplistic standpoint, à la both the actual and hoped-for use of the shark in Jaws and the journey to find a secluded beach in The Beach. 

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Director Jaume Collet-Serra (centre-left) and stars Blake Lively (centre) and Òscar Jaenada (far-right) at the New York premiere of The Shallows (JustJared.com Photo)

My sole, prior experience with director Collet-Serra’s filmography is 2011’s Unknown and 2014’s Non-Stop, starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore. In the vein of the latter filmThe Shallows maintains his inclusion of watches, smartphones and computer displays on screen to move the plot while keeping the antagonist largely obscured for the first two-thirds of the movie. There are some near-comedic moments with a flare gun but the director keeps the focus on the tension of Blake Lively’s Nancy’s journey home.

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Director Jaume Collet-Serra on the set of the 2011 thriller, Unknown. (Deadline.com Photo and Caption)

The script, courtesy of Anthony Jaswinski, isn’t so much about the shark attack itself as it is Nancy’s journey home to Texas after discovering, both the location and name of, a remote Mexican beach often frequented by her late mother. That being said, and whilst the shark-laden bits are effective when the creature is largely felt and unseen, the key question of the beach’s name is left unanswered. The film, especially given Nancy’s surf-induced hardships, is better approached from the homeward-bound angle.

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Screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski at an event for The Shallows (Zimbio.com Photo)

Blake Lively’s performance as a medical student/surfer looking for her mother’s oft-visited beach is happy when it needs to be and terrified when shark-induced bloodbaths w warrant it. Apart from which, her benevolent dynamic with Sully Seagull’s ‘Steven Seagull‘, the closest to a non-Òscar Jaenada co-star there is, is some form of relief from the tension without breaking the tone of the movie.

In retrospect, dropping the beach-name question by the time Nancy’s rescued makes sense: she shoudn’t necessarily remember it anyways.

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The Shallows’ star Blake Lively as seen in one of the buoy scenes (Bustle.com Photo)

The score by Marco Beltrami, for want of a second viewing perhaps, is largely in the background without a distinct theme as such. That said, it does help build tension and provide cues for the more afraid in the audience to shield their eyes, based on what I saw in my theatre. The soundtrack is convincing for the sense of surfer-motion that occurs in the first and second, subjectively interpreted, acts of the film.

Marco Beltrami, WWZ, Abbey Road, London April 2013
Composer Marco Beltrami in Abbey Road Studios, London in April 2013 (Ray Costa/Costa Communications Photo via FilmMusicReporter.com)

Prior Collet-Serra collaborator, director of photography Flavio Martínez Labiano’s – for want of more knowledge about his trademarks between 2011’s Unknown, 2014’s Non-Stop and 2016’s The Shallows – photography depicts the beach as the called-out paradise that it is when it needs to be, the outcrop as the dehydrated and sapped daytime hell that it needs to be and the freezing, gritty, crab-ridden outcrop as it needs to be when they need to be it.

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Director of Photography, Flavio Martínez Labiano on the set of 2014’s Jaume Collet-Serra film, Non-Stop (MovieStillsDB.com Photo)

Very simply, and as I’ve attempted to show in the act-by-act breakdown below, The Shallows is a film that is about a journey home with some implications of reconciliation beyond its impliedly- advertised shark attacks. If you don’t necessarily mind a little more of that in a shark movie, you shan’t be disappointed.

(Whilst the opinions and observations constitute the author’s own, the following sources were used for the facts cited above: ConsequenceOfSound.net, Express.co.uk, Gluckman.com, IMDb.com, NYTimes.com, SlashFilm.com)

Plot and Act-by-Act Breakdown:

Plot: Nancy needs to return home from a surfing trip to a remote Mexican beach.

Prologue (?): Nancy talks to Carlos and sets up an unanswered name of the beach while driving to the mystery beach.

Act 1: Nancy chooses to go into the water for the first time.

Act 2: Nancy chooses again to return to the water, even when told it’s getting late (and unsafe).

Act 3: Nancy swims from the whale carcass to the rocky outcrop, trying to slowly get ashore.

Act 4: Nancy beckons the later killed hungover thief and the returning surfers; she acquires, and records video, on the GoPro camera (should this be considered as two separate acts?)

Act 5: Nancy lures the shark to the sea floor and kills it; Carlos retrieves her from the beach.

Epilogue: Nancy surfs with her sister near the beaches of Galveston, Texas.

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