The Shallows (2016)

*. Good for Blake Lively. I mean that. The first film I saw her in was Savages, and I figured it would take a heroic effort for anyone’s career to overcome that.
*. Well, The Shallows isn’t a great flick, but Lively does a nice star turn in what is basically a solo performance.
*. The intro strikes a lot of familiar notes. A quick bit of shaky-cam found footage hints at the terrors ahead. Then we meet a pretty American gringa traveling somewhere off the beaten path. She’s a med student, of course. There seem to be a lot of them in horror movies these days. Anyway, the curious among us may wonder if she will she be visiting The Ruins. No, she’s going surfing. She spends a quick bit of FaceTime with the family, letting us know that she’s a fighter and that she’s got something to live for. So far, so very familiar.
*. Familiar, and pretty dull. Once we get in the water though things start to liven up.
*. Of course online critics, notoriously obsessive fact-checkers, had a field day with all of the improbabilities. The operation of the tides is all wrong. There’s no reason why the shark would be so determined to dine on surfers when it had a perfectly good whale buffet right there. The blubber from the whale would not ignite. Nancy would have been suffering extreme dehydration. And so on.

*. My own biggest problem was with the shark. It is, of course, CGI. Most of the movie is, as it was not shot on location but in a tank. The thing is, CGI monsters just aren’t scary. “Bruce,” the much-maligned mechanical shark in Jaws, was scarier and more realistic. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
*. In any event, what I really found improbable was the sheer size of the thing. I mean, that’s an absolutely ginormous Great White Shark. I think the largest of these sharks has been reported at just over 20 feet. From the overhead shots this one seems to be close to 40 feet. Come on.
*. In some ways it is a bit daring. Only having the one character who has to vocalize her thoughts all the time is tricky. And it is a pretty minimal plot. But I thought Jaume Collet-Serra handled it with competence. He may not be an auteur, but he seems like the kind of director who can handle this kind of genre material efficiently (he’s worked well with Liam Neeson, and I thought his House of Wax was pretty good as well). Lively holds up her end, looking good in a bikini and in various Little Mermaid poses on her rock while projecting the requisite fortitude and competence. The camera really walks a fine line with ogling her, but I think stays this side of respectable.
*. I could have done without the epilogue. She did it all for mom. The triumph of the human spirit. Girl power. She is going to be a doctor, and her little sister is going to look up to her and maybe go on to med school too. Did we need all this?
*. This isn’t a bad little B-movie. There’s a lot of silliness and working within conventions, but it’s quick and proficiently made. It’s more than just Blake Lively in a bikini — but that’s still the only reason I can think of for watching it twice.

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