Just when you though it was safe to get away from it all and have an idyllic vacation surfing at an isolated Mexican beach, well …… Splashing into theaters this summer is the latest man, or, in this case, woman, vs. shark movie, The Shallows. Featuring a gore-de-force performance by Blake Lively, The Shallows is an exciting, intense, nail-biting thrill-ride that may make you rethink your next excursion into the water.
“This is paradise.”
Blake Lively plays Nancy Adams, an experienced surfer taking a break from med school to honor her recently deceased mother by visiting a “secret beach” in Tijuana, Mexico, where her mom had once vacationed while carrying Nancy before she was born. Dropped off by a local, Nancy soon encounters a couple of other surfers, along with some magnificent waves, but not much else at this beautiful, pristine beach. When the other surfers eventually leave, Nancy finds herself alone to catch a final wave of the day, only to find she’s sharing the water with the carcass of a humpback whale, some seagulls happy to find a meal, and a huge great white shark not happy to be sharing its feeding grounds with another soul. Soon, Nancy finds herself in a desperate and protracted struggle to survive just a couple of hundred yards from shore, with only a rock outcropping exposed by the low tide, keeping her from the jaws of this angry, eating machine.
“I want you to know, I’m going to fight.”
The Shallows is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the Spanish filmmaker who helmed the horror films, House of Wax (2005) and Orphan, and the Liam Neeson action thrillers, Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night. Here, he creates gallons of suspense with minimal, but convincing dialogue by Anthony Jaswinski, and an effective use of, yet not overreliance on, a relentlessly terrifying CGI shark. Filmed in Queensland, Australia, the breathtaking, slow-motion cinematography by Flavio Labiano, the concise editing by Joel Negron and the thrilling music by Marco Beltrami all add to the tense, edge-of-your-seat action. The film also makes full use of its PG-13 rating, as it is much more bloody and gory than the inexplicably recent R-rated The Conjuring 2.
As terrific as the technical aspects of the film are, The Shallows lives and dies on the performance of star Blake Lively. Unlike most horror films that start off with several protagonists who are often whittled down, one by one, until you are left with “the final girl,’ here, Lively pulls off the impressive feat of being ‘the only girl.’ Intelligent and resourceful, Blake plays a very comely and compelling lead, and Labiano’s camera clearly loves her – every square inch of her. Whether it’s tending to an extremely nasty wound to her leg or attempting to figure a way out of her dangerous predicament, Blake is a fighter, and after all she goes through in this life or death struggle, it’s surely one the audience doesn’t want her to lose.
Like all the other ‘killer shark’ movies that have come before, Deep Blue Sea, Open Water, The Reef, and, of course, the all-time classic, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, The Shallows plays into our fear of the unknown, that of something that lurks unseen, underwater, in an element that is not natural to us land dwellers. It also taps into the ultimate fear, of not only dying, but succumbing to one of the most violent and unsettling deaths, that of being eaten alive by one of nature’s most efficient and bloodthirsty creatures, the great white shark. While the film is most likely taking extreme dramatic license in showing a great white so relentless in its attacks on someone who poses no threat and offers little in the way of a meal, especially with a massive whale on hand for the taking, sharks are instinctive beings, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that one would so staunchly defend its territory from a perceived threat.
While the shark can certainly seem like a scary creature, and shark attacks do occur every year, from Florida in the U.S. to the Gold Coast of Australia (this year marks the 100th anniversary of the deadly Jersey Shore attacks), the fact is that shark attacks are extremely rare. You are sixteen times more likely to be struck by lightning, and those odds are even greater if you just stay out of the shark’s habitat. And out of about 440 species of shark, only a small few are known to have ever attacked humans. We aren’t their natural prey, and aren’t especially tasty as we are mostly made up of bone and sinew, not full of delicious blubber like a shark’s preferred prey of seals or whales. When a rare shark attack on a human does occur, it is usually a case of mistaken identity, either someone on a surfboard, or a swimmer with an open wound. So, while sharks pose little threat to humans, it is rather, humans who are the ones that are a danger to sharks.
Shark numbers across the board are plummeting to dangerously low levels due to incidental catch by fishermen and as a result of being killed for the delicacy known as shark fin soup, where the shark is caught, its fins sliced off, and the still living shark is dumped backed into the ocean to die an excruciating death. This barbaric and wasteful practice kills tens of millions of sharks every year, primarily for the Chinese market, and is reaching unsustainable levels. Sharks are important predators and serve as an essential part of oceanic ecosystems. Without sharks, the seas would be irreparably damaged, and as the oceans compose over 70% of the earth’s surface and provide us with much of our food, this affects us too. Sharks have been around for over 400 million years, and if we don’t stop killing them, that may soon change. What can you do? Don’t eat shark fin soup (the mercury levels can pose health hazards as well), don’t frequent establishments that sell or serve it and encourage the banning of shark fin soup around the world by signing petitions or contributing to organizations that are working hard to end this deadly practice, like Sea Shepherd and Defenders of Wildlife. Or go visit Oceana to brush up on your shark knowledge and see how this organization is working to protect the world’s oceans. Finally, check out the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch to learn which seafood and sushi choices are the healthiest for you, the species and the ocean, river and lake environments in which they live. They have guides available and even an app for your smartphone.
In the meantime, for summer escapism and some terror and suspense from the safety and comfort of a dry theater seat, unless you spill your soda or popcorn, join Blake Lively for her riveting performance in The Shallows. And while sharks are one of the less likely dangers you’ll encounter in the ocean, among jellyfish, sharp rocks or coral and riptides, perhaps a pool or water park will satisfy your desire for watery fun.
— review by Brian de Castro