The release of new shark movie The Shallows coincides with today’s discovery of 400-year-old sharks, believed to be the world’s oldest vertebrate animals – a bit like when The Martian was released the same week that NASA found evidence of flowing water on Mars. And like The Martian, The Shallows is the story of someone stranded. But instead of Mars, she’s in the sea. And instead of growing potatoes, she’s fighting a shark. And instead of having fun, we’re watching The Shallows.
Blake Lively plays Nancy, an American surfer who rocks up to a Mexican beach with more emotional baggage than survival equipment. After a quick introduction that’s shot more like Baywatch than The Bay, Nancy is besieged on a rock by a shark – and to make matters worse, she has crabs. Seriously, they’re crawling all over her. Her only company is a seagull called “Steven Seagull” and a rock called “Dwayne Johnson.” That second one isn’t true.
For the next 80 minutes, it’s Blake Lively vs. shark deadly. And it’s a great white disappointment. Without the naturalism of Open Water, the tension of All Is Lost or the gore of 127 Hours, the result is jawful. It doesn’t even work as a trashy shark film, thanks to tone-deaf direction by Jaume Collet-Serra and writing by Anthony Jaswinski – who presumably only landed the job because his name is an anagram of “I sink Jaws.”
Rather than show any shark-attack action, the camera rests on Lively’s comically bad face acting. And rather than play up the black comedy of the ridiculous scenario, the film is stupidly serious and seriously stupid. The thrills are non-existent and the laughs unintentional – one scene sees Nancy scream “shark!” at a surfer, who calls back: “Don’t worry about it, there’s no sharks here!” He must assume Nancy is just chilling on a rock, screaming about sharks and surrounded by blood because that’s what American tourists like to do, the crazy gringa.
Lively herself is consistently out-acted by a seagull, while Nancy has two convenient character traits. Firstly, she talks to herself – a useful device for screenwriters who don’t know how to approach films with only one character. Secondly, she’s a former med student. This means she’s medically resourceful and very clever, although not clever enough to bother learning the Spanish word for “shark.”
Shark-attack cinema is a puzzlingly prolific industry, churning out shark films like there’s no to-minnow. Our advice? Keep your distance as you would the real thing. At just 86 minutes The Shallows is snappy and nothing else, floating to the surface like a corpse. With its fintastically bad title, acting, direction and screenplay, this is one to avoid – even for fans of girl on buoy action.