Thursday, June 15, 2017

In short: The Shallows (2016)

Taking a – perhaps permanent – break from her study of medicine, Nancy (Blake Lively) travels to a secluded, hidden beach in Mexico to come to terms with the cancer death of her mother. In her mind, her mother and the beach where Mom must have had a particularly transcendent time on a holiday when she was Nancy’s age, are entwined, so Nancy seems to hope to feel nearer to her mother and be able to say goodbye. Nancy is also going to surf there.

Alas, our heroine has chosen a very bad time to come to this particular beach, for a (obviously hyper-intelligent) killer shark has chosen the neighbouring stretch of ocean as his private feeding grounds. So soon, Nancy finds herself with a nasty leg wound, without a phone or anyone who will miss her soon enough for it to matter, stranded on a bunch of rocks, besieged by a shark that is clearly as evil yet more intelligent than your usual politician and willing to wait and lay traps like a killer in a slasher movie.

The Shallows is very much a typical Jaume Collet-Serra film (well, ignoring the absence of Liam Neeson), which is to say, a film that takes a script that is technically sound but also absolutely preposterous and turns it into genre movie gold by the sheer power of good filmmaking. Collet-Serra is one of the least lazy filmmakers imaginable, seemingly always trying to find some way to make any given scene more dramatic, or more beautiful, or more exciting through technical mastery and visual imagination. If I sound as if I’m laying it on a little thick here, just look, really look, at basically every film the guy has ever made, watch how he always seems to make directorial choices that are at once right for any given scene and also interesting in all the right ways, giving everything a flourish that suggests personal involvement when making films that are by all rights meant to be streaming fodder neither filmmaker nor audience is supposed to care all that much about. If anyone’s ever looking to declare an overlooked post-00s genre movie auteur: here’s your guy.

In The Shallows, Collet-Serra uses his immense visual powers to emphasise Nancy’s isolation, while escalating the tension relentlessly (and beautifully), or taking a bit of time for some picture postcard beach and surfing footage meant as effective contrast to the danger to life and limb of our heroine. He generally treats the script’s more dubious ideas with such a seriousness and verve that I only noticed how preposterous the shark’s behaviour was after watching the film. Lively’s performance is very fine too; there’s no moment where she doesn’t hold up to the film’s focus on her, and her portrayal of determination is exactly the note the film needs to work. If that’s still not enough (either for you to be convinced or to think I’ve got the worst taste), The Shallows also features some excellent seagull acting.

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