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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Aug 13, 2016

The Shallows Movie Review: Well Paced Survival Story Of One Woman Vs. Shark

WHEN WE saw “Jaws” 41 years ago at the old Quad Theatre, we were really jolted by that scene where the huge shark with its sharp teeth suddenly popped up on screen. It was a scene so iconic and effective to induce nightmares.

Now comes “The Shallows”, a survival story that reminds us of our favorite movies about struggling to stay alive: “Life of Pi”, “Alive”, “Gravity”, “The Martian” and “Cast Away”. The essential plot elements in “The Shallows” are a young woman, the shark who wants to eat her, a bird who keeps her company, a camera that records the shark attacking a victim and a boy who finds the camera on the beach.

Mrs. Ryan Reynolds (otherwise known as Blake Lively, the sexy toned and tanned “Gossip Girl”) is the young woman, Nancy, a medical student from Texas who’s vacationing in Mexico while grieving and trying to cope with her mom’s death. She goes to this secluded secret beach which is special for her since her late mother visited it when she was still pregnant with Nancy. It’s her way of honoring her mother’s memory who heroically battled with the big C.

The movie does not waste time in getting into the main conflict as the shark attacks her only a few minutes after the film’s start. Nancy sees a huge object in the ocean with seagulls flying around it. It’s a dead whale with a huge gaping wound and it brought there a shark that is feeding on it. The shark sees Nancy on her surfboard and attacks her. The camera goes under the water along with Nancy as she struggles to pull herself up to get some air and swim into a small rock islet.

Her thigh gets a big bad gash and her feet get hurt by sharp corrals. Director Jaume Collet Sera (who directed the Liam Neeson action-thrillers “Non-Stop” and “Run All Night”) makes sure we are given proper demographic shots to show how far the tiny rock island is from the beach and just how small it is that makes Nancy’s movement very limited. The film then becomes a primal clash between Nancy and the forces of nature, what with the freezing coldness of the night alternating with the sizzling heat of the sun during the day.

To stop the bleeding of the gash on her thigh, she uses her own earrings as suture without anaesthesia and it’s played perfectly as it makes us wince as we watch her do it on herself. But the shark remains the most deadly threat as it also gets to devour some guys who tried to rescue her. Nancy then has to play a game of oneupmanship with it. She has to use her stopwatch to figure out how much time she has to outwit the shark in swimming from one location to another.

It’s to the credit of Blake Lively that her character becomes totally sympathetic, using her determination, fighting spirit and resourcefulness when her life is put at great risk. The way her ordeal is chronicled is very gripping and compelling, but the way they resolve the conflict between Nancy and the shark is not really that satisfying. It becomes a fiery, over the top duel between Blake and the shark that is more showbiz than real. But of course, we don’t want her to end like the protagonists in “Open Water” where a couple of skin divers were left behind by their tour boat in the middle of the sea.

It’s hard to sustain the viewer’s interest in a movie where there is just one character but this movie succeeds in doing that by making us completely empathize with Nancy. She can see some people on the beach so she can call out to them. One drunk guy, instead of helping her, pockets the money he got from her bag on the beach. He quickly gets the comeuppance he rightfully deserves.

Nancy is also in pain because of her wounds. She’s suffering from loss of blood, the threat of gangrene, dehydration, and there’s the approach of impending high tide that will completely submerge her island. Just like Tom Hanks who paints a face on a ball so he’ll have someone to talk to, Blake finds company in a seagull with a broken wing. Someone behind tells her companion: “It must be the spirit of her dead mom to keep her company.”

It is to Blake’s credit that she manages to make everything quite credible in a role that requires a lot of physicality. All in all, it hooks us and it delivers, giving us a well-paced solid thrilling piece of escapist entertainment, told with some hypnotically breathtaking aerial shots of the ocean and the gigantic waves in the surfing scenes.