THE SHALLOWS: Spending an hour-and-a-half watching a bikini clad Blake Lively (SAVAGES) elude a predatory 20-foot Great White shark is a dirty job but somebody’s gotta’ do it. That’s the minimalist plot in this taut, nicely edited movie that pays proper tribute to JAWS (1975) but is content to stake its own territory in the “shark attack movie” niche. All we really need to know about Lively’s character is that she’s on hiatus as a medical student which translates into the ability to stitch and suture her “gnarly” gashes and open wounds with fashion accessories. For all intents and purposes, Lively is a one-woman show in a female version of CAST AWAY (2000) with a wounded bird (Sully “Steven” Seagull) taking on the role of the Wilson volleyball. In between writhing in agony owing to injuries from a coral reef or jellyfish, Lively demonstrates a better than adequate range as we feel her mounting desperation and physical pain. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (NON-STOP) understands his material and knows how to induce and maintain suspense. In a thriller like this, editing has to be tight and it makes the grade in this respect as does Anthony Jaswinski’s compact screenplay which during one slyly clever sequence (Which I won’t reveal.) had me actually pulling for the shark. What I missed, though, was the sort of nerve-wracking musical soundtrack that heightens tension in situations where swimmers are served up as lunch. However, the movie is strong on technique in such a way that makes it appear to be much more bloodier and graphic than it really is. The cinematography is quite appealing and conveys both the beauty and danger that lies beneath the ocean’s surface. No, it’s not JAWS (1975) by any stretch of the imagination. On the other hand, it ain’t SHARKNADO (2013) either.
CRITIC’S GRADE: B
CLOSING CREDITS: In any discussion about what the second best shark movie of all time is, consider OPEN WATER (2004). This drama thriller about a young couple (Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis) accidentally stranded in the middle of the ocean without food or water and surrounded by sharks scuttles typical film conventions to be one of the more underrated gems from the previous decade. The movie was the second feature of cinematographer-director-editor-writer Chris Kentis (SILENT HOUSE) and his wife Laura Lau, who produced the work.