The Shallows (2016) Movie Review

On a Latin American beach, a young boy finds a helmet with a waterproof camera attached to it that depicts the brutal death of a surfer at the hands of a shark.

We then cut to an unnaturally high key-lit, lens flare-heavy jungle road in which Nancy (Blake Lively) is being driven to a beach, only to find that her surfing buddy has flaked on her. She decides to go out to sea on her own, though, given the sentimental value of the beach that she doesn’t know the name of.


This scene is shot like a dream sequence, but unintentionally. Lens flares and distortion caused by the angle of the camera on the car causes Nancy to be caught in frame encompassed by an awkward blur. The intent is to show the sanctuary of dry land in the wake of the impending danger, but it looks strange and forced.

Of course, if you came for a bikini clad Blake Lively, as opposed to good cinematography, don’t worry, for there are plenty of shots trailing across the actress’ body as she strips down in preparation to surf. For the rest of us, these are merely unnecessary shots.

The best shots in the film are extreme long shots of water from above. All others are standard or lesser, especially whenever we see the POV of the surfer’s headcam.

Narratively, this film’s first act is composed of montage sequences and a bad soundtrack. Wait, I hear you saying, that’s not a narrative. You’re right, but it’s about all we get, save for shoe-horned backstory solely meant to quickly drum up sympathy for Nancy in order to justify torturing her later. This is also when we see a phone-to-screen projection of a skype conversation that looks atrocious on screen. These picture in picture additions of technology are used throughout the film, but it is never a helpful or necessary addition.

Things are set up in this movie for the sole purpose of those things coming back later as major plot conveniences or impediments to Nancy. It screams of lazy screenwriting, especially given that these conveniences dominate the motivations of Nancy.

It is hard to fault Lively for her performance, although it is not the tour de force single character survival tale that the film needed. No, awkward scripting is the real culprit here. To give Nancy a reason to talk despite being alone the screenwriter invokes her medical school background and has her speak to herself as if she is a patient. It is hard to take seriously. And no, a symbolic gesture made by a bird companion does not help any. Bloody-wing Bill the seagull is no Wilson.

There is a sequence near the middle of the film involving a drunk character that may be the most unintentionally hilarious scene in a movie this year. Seeing the transition to the next scene is all the more enjoyably laughable, as it undercuts the entire scene previous.

There is so little actually happening in this movie that it is no wonder that it clocks in at a cool 87 minutes and is littered with slow motion and long establishing shots. Still, the film manages to crawl through its story. It is less of a survival narrative and more of a rock-sitting one. It wants to be a taut thriller, but its lack of story and tonal control make that an impossible feat.


As always, thanks for reading!

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)

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