With the inauguration about to happen I think alot of us kinda feel like we’re all alone, torn open, bleeding and floating on a dead whale, unable to get to shore because a shark the size of a fuckin bus wants to eat us and will not leave us be. So I thought you know what, what if there was a movie about somebody else in that situation, maybe if it had a positive outcome it would be a good inspirational tool for all of us as citizens of the United States and the world who hope to somehow survive the coming shit show of dangerous ignorance and blatant, barely-even-trying-to-fuckin-hide-it-at-all corruption.
The title THE SHALLOWS is not about the new management, it’s just referring to an area of not-that-deep water that is the setting for a pleasingly simple 80-minute romp from Jaume Collet-Serra, director of HOUSE OF WAX, GOAL II, ORPHAN and three Liam Neeson vehicles (UNKNOWN, NON-STOP and RUN ALL NIGHT). Liam must’ve been busy doing SILENCE or something, so Collet-Serra went off and made this adaptation of Blake Lively’s one woman off Broadway show about a surfer trapped on a rock after a shark attack.
I lied. It is not based on a one woman show. But it is almost entirely balanced on Lively’s shoulders. She plays Nancy, who is always on screen and usually alone. Supporting characters who she’d also play in the stage version are:
1. Little boy seen on beach in prologue
2. Guy who gives her ride to beach
3. Her friend who was supposed to be with her, portrayed through text messages
4-5. Her father and younger sister, seen on her phone
6-7. Two surfers she meets who leave the beach before she gets bit
8. The shark. A real asshole.
9. An injured bird she names Steven Seagull (!)
10. A drunk guy she sees on the beach at one point
The parameters are set up very carefully: her phone is left on the beach in her bag. It’s a secret surf spot without many people living nearby. She almost graduated medical school. Her friend won’t know to be looking for her and doesn’t know where the beach is anyway. There is some painful stinging coral in the area. There’s a dead whale. There’s a buoy. She has a watch.
So it’s a test of her survival skills, her toughness and ingenuity. She uses her jewelry and clothing to hold her bitten leg together. To be able to handle it she talks out loud to herself as if talking to a patient. “There you go. Good. That wasn’t so bad, was it?” type shit. She floats on the whale (not pleasant), lays on the rock, climbs onto the buoy. She follows the tides. She times the shark circling to figure out if she can make it to another spot.
You know, the rock is small, but she shouldn’t out of hand dismiss the idea of starting a new life there. She came here for adventure, didn’t she? Maybe this is the new start she’s looking for. Just a suggestion.
Collet-Serra continues the very 2010s gimmick he started with NON-STOP of showing text messages floating on screen next to the phones that make them. But since she leaves her phone behind then we start just seeing the information she can get from her watch.
It’s mainly shot in a hi-def documentary-ish style, and it looks like Lively does her own surfing. This realism clashes slightly with the digital business required for some of the big moments, but I think those sequences are really well executed, with Lively seemingly doing some kind of underwater stunts, and cool camera moves dipping into the water and back to the surface, or through a swarm of glowing jellyfish or things like that. The shark is huge (JAWS sized) and usually looks very real.
Lively (SAVAGES, GREEN LANTERN, THE TOWN) is perfectly cast. She’s pretty in a more human, less Hollywood way, with freckles and a very slight hippie vibe. I absolutely believe her as a young woman with the will and desire to end up surfing alone in South America for adventure and emotional closure. And I also believe her having some bad, not terrible tattoos, and jewelry that can be used for makeshift surgical purposes.
Seagull has a supporting role. Not like EXECUTIVE DECISION. He lasts longer. Maybe it’s a similar amount of action, but he’s more passive. She resets a bone in his wing, which I guess in action star terms is like the scene where the hero lays shirtless while the female love interest pulls a bullet out (and clanks it in a metal receptacle of some kind). It would be cool if she poured whisky on Steven Seagull as an anesthetic. Anyway, healing in action movies is usually kind of a submissive role for the woman when self-surgery is not an option. I like that Lively gets to heal and do all the action. It’s an example of how women in action can get away with layers that men aren’t typically allowed when they’re trying to be tough.
Then again, it could be an homage to OUT OF REACH, in which Seagal also helps an injured bird.
Screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski wrote BACKWOODS and VANISHING ON 7TH STREET. I saw the latter, because it’s directed by Brad Anderson, but I didn’t find it exciting enough to even write a review of. This turned out much better, finding inobstrusive ways to get an emotional character arc into a short, limited location, mostly-one-character thrill ride.
So… look lively, everyone. If Blake can get out of that mess then maybe, just maybe, we can get out of ours. Although we will still have been chomped by a giant shark. I wish we never went on this fucking trip.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.