“The Shallows” starring Blake Lively is entertaining, despite eschewing from the more thought-provoking tropes of the survival genre.
Set on a nondescript and secluded cove somewhere in Mexico, the film sees Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) stranded, battling against a predatory great white shark and her own various personal demons. Which of those two holds the sharper teeth is up to the viewer.
The film begins on a promising note, as we’re introduced to Nancy being driven through a lush jungle, exchanging cheerful banter with her driver, Carlos (Óscar Jaenada). Their lines are probably the best dialogue in the script, despite the fact that half the screen is taken up by projected Instagram posts (an effect far overused in this movie).
The lengthy first act consists largely of surfing montages and exposition dumps laying out Nancy’s family drama and not-so-subtly pointing out items that will be of use later in the movie (“Watch out for that fire coral, it stings like a jellyfish”). After 30 minutes or so, the Shark finally makes an appearance, knocking Nancy off of her green and white surfboard, taking a chunk out of her leg and trapping her on a desolate piece of rock just offshore.
For a film that so aggressively wants to be a survival drama, “The Shallows” doesn’t understand what the genre is all about—sacrifice. In a film like “Castaway” or “127 Hours” the protagonist becomes isolated after either running away from their struggles or brashly striking out on their own, and in order to escape they must pay some sort of emotional or physical toll, after which they return to their ordinary lives bettered from the experience, akin to a modern day telling of Jonah and the Whale.
Though “The Shallows” has these elements, their development is continually pushed aside in favor of poorly blocked action sequences that only serve to pull an observant viewer out of their immersion. Nancy Adams’s sacrifice is ultimately minimal and even unimportant, leaving the conclusion underwhelming in spite of Lively’s commendable performance as the character.