The Shallows review: This shark survival thriller is properly exciting
Film review: The Shallows

Matthew Turner delivers his verdict on tense thriller The Shallows, in which Blake Lively is menaced by a hungry shark

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A young surfer becomes trapped offshore after a great white shark strays into the waters of a remote beach, in this tense thriller

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Angelo Josue Lozano Corzo
Genre: Thriller / Horror
Country: USA
Release date: August 12, 2016
Cert: 15
Running time: 86 mins

The concept for this enjoyable survival thriller couldn’t be simpler: it’s Blake Lively, in a bikini, fighting a shark.

Let’s face it, you probably already know whether or not you want to see it, just from that description alone. But in case you need further encouragement, it’s stylishly directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (who made ridiculous-but-fun cult horror Orphan and a string of Liam Neeson thrillers) and comfortably stands as one of the best shark-related thrillers of recent memory.

Oh, and it also features a scene-stealing seagull named Steven, delivering the best non-human supporting performance since Wilson the basketball in Cast Away.

Genuine thrill

Lively plays Nancy Adams, a med school drop-out (this will be important for later) who’s struggling with the recent death of her mother, and has come to surf a remote beach in Mexico in order to get her head together.

However, Nancy’s grief-surfing comes to an abrupt end when she’s attacked by a vicious great white shark, leaving her injured and stranded, 200 metres from the shore, on a small outcrop of rock that will disappear at high tide.

With the shark circling and only a wounded seagull for company, Nancy has to use every ounce of wit at her disposal to survive.

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In perhaps her best big-screen role to date, Lively delivers an impressively physical performance that makes you feel everything she goes through, including the horrors of her initial injury and the subsequent make-shift stitches she gives herself with the pointy earrings and necklace she wears (that med school training really pays off).

There’s also a genuine thrill in watching her come up with ingenious survival ideas, though Collet-Serra lets the side down a little by including a few too many leering close-ups of her body than strictly necessary.

Exciting showdown

Fortunately, Collet-Serra’s direction is extremely effective where it counts, building suspense throughout and dishing out appropriate doses of shark-based horror along the way.

These scenes are further heightened by some stylish and inventive visual touches, such as the deployment of a helmet-mounted GoPro camera worn by an ill-fated local surfer (allowing for a brief burst of found footage in an opening teaser sequence), or the inspired use of a school of glowing jellyfish.

In addition, there’s a decent amount of humour, courtesy of the aforementioned scene-stealing seagull (reaction shots a speciality, will work for food) and the action builds to a properly exciting final act showdown as Nancy stages a climactic face-off with her aquatic adversary.

It’s also beautifully shot, courtesy of Flavio Martínez Labiano’s stunning cinematography.

Worth seeing?

Superbly acted, stylishly directed and supremely thrilling, this delivers pretty much everything you could possibly want from a film featuring Blake Lively being menaced by a shark. Recommended.

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