RJ Bayley Reviews: The Shallows
I don’t know if you’re aware of the app Flixster. It’s an app that’s Rotten Tomatoes under another name (don’t ask my why it’s not just called ‘Rotten Tomatoes’). You can post reviews there, and I review everything I see, just for myself, for fun. It might be something I’m not covering for Popcorn Horror or it might be something that’s not horror related at all. Sometimes I like to review a film like I’ve completely misinterpreted it completely, like when I said of 12 Years a Slave: “a riot, the laughs come thick and fast”.
In my mind I had already prepped what my Flixster review for The Shallows was going to be in the case I liked the film to some degree, which I suspected I would. Something that would be glib but defensive about how being an exploitational B-movie can be a good thing:
“Nothing but a trashy B-movie. It’s just Blake Lively in a bikini screaming at a shark for 86 minutes.”
And then ★★★(★) if it was that good.
But when I saw The Shallows I realised it was deserving of so much more. To to point I petitioned Cara for me to be able to review it for Popcorn Horror, and will be petitioning her again to publish this extra long review. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a trashy B-movie. It is Blake Lively in a bikini doing some (but not a lot) of screaming at a shark for 86 minutes. But the whole thing is executed unbelievably well. That brisk running time shaves away all the fat of the film. There’s some perfunctory exposition/backstory which the film is welcomely honest about getting out of the way, but then, it’s all Blake vs. Shark action.
There’s no doubt that Lively was cast because of the way she looks in a bikini, and honestly, I don’t see a problem with that. I’m a huge 007 fan and I have no problem with Daniel Craig’s many topless scenes during his tenure. It’s not for me, but that’s fine if other people enjoy it, just as Lively in a bikini isn’t for others. It fits. The Shallows wears it’s B-movie heritage and aspirations with pride and there’s no shortage of titillation in even feminist iterations like I Spit On Your Grave. But beyond that, she turns in a powerhouse performance. She’s the only real character in the film, the focus always on her, and she throws herself into conveying the agony, despair, terror, intelligence and determination she experiences. The character is wisely made a disillusioned med school dropout, and because she’s a disillusioned dropout I for one found myself really relating to and therefore rooting for her.
The direction by Jaume Collet-Serra is stunning. I’m not usually one for gratuitous ‘look, isn’t mountain biking/snowboarding/
It’s an idyllic set up that makes the shattering of it all the more affecting. The remote isolation and wildness which was once it’s biggest draw is now its biggest drawback. Because it’s such a confined yet wide open setting the entire film becomes a siege, with the defender safe at her castle but knowing she’ll eventually run out of food and water if she doesn’t make a move. It’s as razor sharp as a great white’s tooth, where every move and every mistake could mean death. Retrieving things from the water, attempts at moving, simple things become deadly gambles and the tension only increases, building to a titantic crescendo. The resolution is a little silly, but by that point The Shallows has fully earned it by being the scariest film I’ve seen in the cinema for quite some time.