The Shallows was written by Anthony Jaswinski and directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.
Jaswinski previously wrote Killing Time and Kristy, neither of which I've ever heard of, and Vanishing On 7th Street, which I saw and WISH I'd never heard of. Burn!
Collet-Serra directed House Of Wax and Orphan, both of which were fairly decent little horror flicks. He then apparently entered his Liam Neeson Period, directing Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night.
The Shallows is a perfect example of the "Survival" genre, in which the main character finds themselves all alone in a dangerous (and unlikely) situation and has to figure out a way to endure. Think 127 Hours, The Grey and All Is Lost and you'll have the right idea.
I've seen many marketing blurbs breathlessly stating that the film is "The Best Shark Movie Since Jaws!" and "It's Jaws For A New Generation!" Eh, I don't think I'd go that far. Yes, The Shallows is suspenseful, and it's got a shark in it, but it doesn't hold a candle to Spielberg's terrifying fishy opus. If fact I think it'll be a long, long time before another film surpasses Jaws. If ever. And no, Sharknado doesn't count.
The film clocks in at a brisk eighty seven minutes, which is a good thing. When your entire movie takes place in one location— in this case, a rock in the middle of a lagoon— it's probably best not to tax the audience's patience too much.
Med student Nancy Adams (played by Blake Lively, aka Mrs. Ryan Reynolds) travels to Mexico with her best friend for some much-needed R & R. When she's ditched by her worthless, hungover friend, she hires a local guide named Carlos to take her to a secluded island beach. It's the same beach Nancy's late mother surfed years earlier when she was pregnant with her.
Carlos drops Nancy off at the beach. As she inspects it, she's immediately awestruck by its beauty. When she asks the name of the beach, Carlos refuses to answer, quickly changing the subject. Gosh, that's not the least bit suspicious. He exits and leaves her to her surfing.
Nancy hits the water, bares her tanned and very toned body and treats us to a surfing montage. She spots a couple of other surfer dudes, named Redshirt One and Redshirt Two, and joins them. OK, I made up those names. But as we'll soon see, they're apt. Redshirt One tells her there's a large rock a few hundred feet from the shore that's only visible at low tide, and to watch out for the "fire coral" that lines it. Heavy foreshadowing alert!
She then takes a break from surfing to call her sister Chloe, which provides us with some much-needed exposition and backstory. It seems her mother's recent death has caused Nancy to consider dropping out of med school. Her father gets on the horn and begs her to reconsider, saying that her mother taught her to be a fighter, and never give up. More foreshadowing! Personally I think Dad just doesn't want the tens of thousands he's spent on her tuition to go to waste.
Nancy paddles back out into the surf as the sun begins to set. The Redshirts tell her they're knocking off for the day, as it's dangerous to surf after dark (duh!) and encourage her to do the same. She tells them she wants to catch one more wave before she goes in.
As she waits in the water for a wave, she spots a large whale carcass a hundred feet away. How she failed to see this gigantic floating corpse before now, I have no idea. Maybe it suddenly fell from the sky, like the whale in Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. For some insane reason she paddles closer to inspect it, and even climbs on top of it (!). She spots a shark circling the whale, and decides a hasty retreat is in order.
As she surfs back toward the shore, the shark slams into her board, knocking her off. She hits her head on a submerged rock, and struggles back to the surface. The shark then bites her leg, pulling her under. Miraculously she manages to free herself and make it to a small rock sticking out of the water— the very one the Redshirts told her about. She steps on a hunk of fire coral as she climbs the rock, severely burning her foot.
Nancy examines the large gash on her leg, and uses her board's ankle strap as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. She sees the Redshirts leaving in their SUV and tries to call to them, but they don't see or hear her. She's then stranded on a rock, two hundred yards from shore, with a hungry shark circling her. Oh, and there's a wounded seagull on the rock as well, to keep her company.
As darkness falls, she rips the arm off her wetsuit to act as a compression bandage for her injured leg. With rescue out of the question, she tries stitching up her leg with her earrings and necklace, which may be one of the most horrifying things I've ever seen.
The next morning Nancy sees a drunken man passed out on the beach. She calls to him, telling him to get the phone from her backpack and call for help. He staggers over to her backpack and of course steals all her money and credit cards. Because of course that's what all "fereners" do. I'm surprised he didn't try to steal her kidney while he was at it! The man notices her surfboard floating in the water, and for some reason decides to wade out and retrieve it. Or maybe he decides to try and rescue her— it's not really clear. Nancy tries to warn him that there's a shark nearby, but he either doesn't hear or understand. She watches in horror as the shark tears him in half, and he drags his upper body out of the surf before expiring.
A few hours later the Redshirts return, and somehow miss the half corpse lying on the beach. Nancy calls to them, and instead of driving for help, they stupidly get in the water and paddle out to her. She tries to warn them of the shark, but Redshirt One says there aren't any in the area. Right on cue, he's attacked! Redshirt Two tries to make it to the rock, and Nancy pulls him out of the water. Unfortunately the shark pulls him back in. Told you they were redshirts!
Redshirt Two's GoPro camera helmet floats past the rock (product placement!) and Nancy risks her life to retrieve it. She records a goodbye to her family, and tosses it to shore, like an electronic message in a bottle.
Nancy realizes she's running out of time. Not only is gangrene setting in on her injured leg, but the tide's rising, and her rocky refuge will soon be under water, leaving her vulnerable to attack. She fixes her seagull pal's dislocated wing and sets him adrift on a hunk of broken surfboard. She then times the shark, who keeps methodically circling her rock, noting that it takes it thirty two seconds to complete a circuit.
As the shark passes, she slips into the water and swims through a smack of jellyfish (I kid you not— a group of jellyfish is called a smack!) to avoid the shark. She and it are both stung, and she manages to make it to a nearby buoy. She climbs up onto it, and opens a box on the side. Inside the box is a flare gun with several shells. She tries to signal a passing cargo ship, but the flares are duds and don't soar high enough to be seen.
The shark rams the buoy, and Nancy shoots it with a flare. Immediately the whale oil in the water ignites, burning the shark. You'd think that would be enough to chase it away for good, but apparently it just pisses it off. It begins wildly attacking the buoy, tearing off bits and pieces, including one of the chains anchoring it.
Nancy falls into the water, and as she's beneath the surface, she notices the buoy's chained to a rebar-spiked base on the ocean floor. She gets the bright idea to pry the remaining chain off the buoy. She hangs onto it as the heavy chain drags her underwater toward the base. The shark sees and swims quickly after her. She lets go a second before reaching the base, and the shark slams into it at full speed, impaling itself.
A little boy (not buoy) finds the GoPro helmet cam and sees Nancy's message. He runs to get his father, who turns out to be Carlos (small world!). They find Nancy washed up on the shore. As Carlos bends over her, the delirious Nancy sees a vision of her late mother smiling down on her.
One year later, Nancy's fully recovered, albeit with a nasty scar on her leg. She teaches her younger sister Chloe how to surf back in her hometown of Galveston, Texas, as her father looks on proudly.
• As the film opens, Nancy's being driven to the hidden beach her mother surfed years ago. Apparently the beach is such a well kept secret she doesn't even know what it's called, nor where it's located. Despite this, she's somehow able to hire Carlos the guide and tell him exactly where to take her.
How the hell is this possible if she doesn't know the beach's name or location?
Nancy: "Por favor, señor. Can you take me to my mom's secret beach? I don't know what it's called, but she surfed there twenty five years ago."
Carlos: "Ah, sí, sí! Señora Adams' Secret Beach! Everyone knows where that is! Hop in!"
• After Carlos drops Nancy off at the secret beach, he asks if she'll need a ride back to town when she's done. She says no, she'll call Uber. Carlos looks puzzled and says, "Who's Uber?"
OK, I get that this was supposed to be a funny line, but instead of making Nancy seem like a clueless American tourist, it just makes her look like a drooling moron. Not only is it ridiculous for her to expect Uber to service such a remote and secluded region, but even if they did, why wouldn't she have just taken one of their cars to the beach in the first place?
So what was her plan when she brushed off Carlos and told him she didn't need a ride back? He just drove her twenty miles along a one lane dirt road to a hidden beach. Was she planning on walking back, while carrying all her gear? Would anyone in their right mind really not put even a second's worth of though into how they were going to return?
This is some classic plot trickery here. All she had to do was tell Carlos to meet her back at the beach at 6pm. Then she wouldn't have been stuck on a rock for two days with a hungry shark circling her. The only reason she doesn't ask for a ride back is to artificially place herself in danger and keep the movie from only lasting fifteen minutes.
• Speaking of plot trickery, there's a ton of it going on in this film. In fact you can almost see the script ticking items off a checklist in order to strand Nancy in an improbable (and easily avoidable!) situation. Her friend bails on her so she has to go surfing by herself. The secret beach she's surfing has no name, so she can't tell anyone where she'll be. She refuses a ride back from a helpful stranger. She stays in the water after the other surfers have left for the day. She leaves her phone (with the magical reception) on the beach. No one can hear her cries for help. The flares in her flare gun are duds. And on and on...
• As Nancy prepares to surf, she slowly strips down to her bright orange, extremely tiny bikini. We're then treated to a lengthy scene of her sensuously slathering sunscreen on her arms and shoulders, as the leering camera slowly moves over every inch of her shapely, toned body.
Annnd then she puts on a black wetsuit, covering up the areas she just covered with protective lotion. So what was the point of that? I've never gone surfing, so I don't know if you're supposed to wear sunscreen under your suit, but I'm guessing not. Obviously the only reason the sunscreen scene exists is to give the men in the audience something to ogle.
• Nancy gets pretty darned good cell phone reception on this secluded, no-name beach. She's even able to video chat with her sister in Texas, without any lagtime!
Meanwhile I'm sitting here in the middle of a city and my phone's only got two bars.
• When the drunken man wades into the water to retrieve Nancy's surfboard, he's attacked by the shark. Instead of actually seeing this happen, the camera focuses on Nancy's face, as she watches the attack unfold. Somehow seeing her horrified reaction was worse than witnessing the actual event. The mind can always imagine something worse than it can see. Well, mine can, anyway.
• By the way, this is some "hidden" beach. Nancy encounters two other surfers while there, and later on a drunk actually staggers by!
• Kudos to the seagull that keeps Nancy company on her rock. He turned in a surprisingly nuanced performance!
• When Nancy shoots the shark with the flare gun, the water around it erupts into flames. Whaaa…??? I think what happened here was the oil from the nearby dead whale leaked into the seawater and ignited. After all, that was the point of the entire whaling industry of the 19th Century. Whales provided lamp oil, which is presumably highly flammable. Or is that inflammable?
• I'm a bit fuzzy on the end of the film. Nancy unfastens a chain on the side of the buoy, and its weight apparently pulls her underwater, faster than a shark can swim. Or did it? As she grabs the falling chain, there's a sort of ratcheting sound. It almost sounds like the chain is being rapidly retracted into the base. Is that a thing? Do buoys have retractable chains? This would actually make more sense, as I think a retractable chain would pull her under faster than one that was simply falling by its own weight. Unfortunately it's not quite clear if this is what's really happening (at least not on a first viewing).
Of course if it is retracting, this begs the question— how the hell does Nancy know that's how buoy chains work? Is she a mechanical engineer as well as a doctor?
The Shallows is a taut little survival thriller that's long on suspense, short on plot. It's also highly contrived, as the main character's predicament becomes progressively worse, almost to the point of hilarity. It doesn't help that the shark acts more like a horror movie slasher than a wild animal, as it almost seems to have a personal vendetta against humans. I give it a C+.