Whoever in Hollywood decided to combine "Jaws" with "Castaway" and then suck out all signs of talent needs a raise immediately. "The Shallows" is a 86 minute long treasure that pits Blake Lively ("Gossip Girl") against one dedicated and pissed off shark, and we loved every second.
The movie centers on Nancy, a recent medical school dropout, whose dream is to surf on the secret beach that her dead mother used to visit as a teenager. Please take a moment to soak this in. Blake Lively in medical school. Dr. Serena VanDerWoodsen. This is Sign #1 that this is one of the most ridiculous things on a movie screen this decade. We are quickly introduced to Sign #2 when Nancy asks three different locals the name of the secret beach; none of which answer her question. They do, however, tell her to be in by sundown and to stay away from the reef, which stings like jellyfish if you get cut. Her token drunk whore friend keeps texting her things like "Sorry I can't join you today! Super hungover!" and "Won't be at the hotel when you get back. I'll be out all night boning!" Uh oh. Nancy on a mystery beach alone with nobody waiting up to see that she gets home safely. We've got a recipe for disaster, folks.
We fast forward a few hours, and Nancy is enjoying the waves. Nancy is a surf superstar (although it's clear that it's not Lively performing these stunts, which is fine, but please use a stunt double and some creative camera angles and not this cheap Snapchat face swap technology to plaster Lively's face on her double.) After surfing for a bit, she decides it would be a great time to go check out the injured grey whale floating on top of the waves. This is not a joke. Nancy swims over and places her hand on the whale, letting her hand slip into a bloody, messy open wound.
Little does Nancy know, but this whale was meant to be dinner for a very hungry shark, who has returned to finish his meal. Not thrilled that this could-be doctor has her hands all over his food, he takes a bite out of her leg. After some tricky camera work, Nancy somehow escapes his grasp and swims to the only safety she can find: ON TOP OF THE WHALE'S BACK.
She hangs out there for a little as she tries to decide her next move. Her eyes dart back and forth from the bouyee floating in the distance to the random rock protruding from the water a few yards away to the beach far off in the distance. As she tries to pick the best course of action, the shark returns, ready to fuck up Nancy's day a little bit more. He takes a bite of the whale and does its best to drag that beast underwater, forcing Nancy to make a choice.
She goes for the rock that is only about two feet above water, making sure to cut herself on the jellyfish reef along the way. Once she finishes making a scene and screaming underwater, she pulls herself up on the rock, where she stays for a large portion of the remainder of the movie.
Although -- minutes of only Blake Lively may seem like a lot, the creator does his/her best by giving her a friend in the form of an injured seagull. They talk, they cry, they eat live crabs together. Nancy decides she doesn't want to live if her new friend can't survive, as well. Whatever, Nancy. If they are the kind of choices you want to make, that's your business, not ours.
While constantly keeping us on our toes, the overall direction of the movie kept us confused. At times, the movie seems like an ad for a destination vacation. Gratuitous boob shots, hot bodies in the crystal blue ocean, shots of the sun along the horizon line. Other times, it tried to take itself seriously, throwing Lively's name into the Oscar pool; chapped lips, no makeup, laying for dead on a rock. However, minutes later, she'd be back to tanned skin and chlorine-drenched hair, looking like she stepped out of a lost Mexican vacation episode of "Gossip Girl."
Tone problems aside, Lively is entertaining enough in the role. With a better script, she wouldn't have been able to handle the role, making a previous Oscar contender like Jennifer Lawrence or Brie Larson a better fit. But given the material, she was a perfect fit for this movie. We couldn't imagine anyone els doing her best to survive this shark's vendetta, nor would we want to.
Speaking of the shark's vendetta, while we are aware that sharks don't realistically hold grudges and attack their victims like this ("Don't bother them and they won't bother you!" screams PETA as we write this), there has to be a reason as to why he was so he'll-bent on getting her. Our only guess is that he saw "Age of Adeline." We don't blame you, Shark.