Ripley of the Blood-Tides:
In the 40-odd years since Spielberg unleashed the classic Jaws on the world, shark attack films have become passé to the point of being totally redundant. I think the last one I stumbled across was the recent Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre. That was the one that cast a group of porn actresses before giving them the bizarre directing order that they should all keep their clothes on. Oh yes…and as an afterthought it also featured ground-travelling sharks.
I don’t think it was meant to be taken seriously. I don’t think so.
Well, if like me you thought there were no good shark movies left to be made, then think again: because The Shallows is an absolute, highly polished, miniature (86 minutes) gem of a movie.
Having been Trek/Bourne/Suicide Squad-ed out with enormous casts, shed loads of CGI and multiple explosions over the last few weeks, I was looking forward to the intimacy of a film with essentially only one location ( a stunningly gorgeous beach) and essentially only one character, Nancy (a stunningly gorgeous Blake Lively).
Nancy has come to a secluded beach in Mexico (although filmed on Australia’s Gold Coast) to surf and experience the waves that her mother had, back when she was pregnant with her. The mother has died far too young only the previous year, leaving Nancy with difficulty in coming to terms with her loss.
There are only another couple of young surfers there and when they call it a day Nancy is left on her own, not realizing that she has swum into the feeding ground of an enormous killer shark. (And incidentally, although this is 12A rated it is quite surprisingly graphic, certainly leaving me wincing on a couple of occasions.)
We’re Going to Need a Bigger Surfboard…
When she is attacked and sustains serious damage to her leg, the rest of the film becomes an extraordinary battle of wills, in which the audience is scarcely allowed to breathe easily for a moment. For although I could have happily watched an hour of the sumptuously filmed surfing scenes, writer Anthony Jaswinski and director Jaume Collet-Serra keep the suspense screwed up to the maximum.
Humans have a habit of projecting their own emotions onto species that bare no relation to them, so it’s natural that we invest this shark with maliciousness and vindictiveness towards poor Nancy, who really doesn’t deserve this appalling shit that she is being put through; but of course it’s only doing what a shark does in trying to eat her. Remember the wise words from the shark opus Jaws: it swims and eats and makes baby sharks and that’s it.
But because of Nancy’s marine-warrior resilience I was reminded even more strongly of Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien and the great Sigourney Weaver’s all-time branding of women power. And Nancy really is a Ripley of the blood-tides. She is every bit as alone on her rock as Ellen Ripley was in space and this shark is just as alien as Ripley’s nightmare pursuer was. No one can hear her scream, either; and the one who does turns out to be a sleazebag. What a day!
I want to see this again, just for the visuals, which are so rich and almost damned eatable (superb work from cinematographer Flavio Labiano). Whether it is a shot of gulls riding the air draughts above the rolling sea or Nancy on her board under an enormous wave, there are endless moments that you want to cut out of the screen and hang on your wall.
This is a tour-de-force of a performance from Blake Lively and The Shallows is a mini-masterpiece. Do yourself a favour and don’t miss it.