Movie Review: The Shallows

I have always been a fan of movies set in one location. Limits in budget and time can lead to interesting results, particularly in the suspense genre. Wait Until Midnight, Hateful Eight, and 10 Cloverfield Lane are fantastic and they take place in one location. Putting together a compelling story with minimal effort is the sign of a true artist. Is The Shallows another great small movie or should it have been bigger?

Following the death of her mother Nancy, played by Blake Lively, goes to a secret surfing spot to think through her issues. When she is about to leave she is attacked by a shark and is left stranded on an island bleeding into the water.

Shark movies are a precarious bunch because apart from Jaws, every one of them is terrible. What they lack is the element of suspense that made that hollowed classic great. We never see the shark or his attacks in full until later when Brody is confronted with the beast alone in the ocean. The tension was palpable because before then, he was just an observer to the shark’s terror.

Shallows is a short movie of 86 minutes and it takes a good chuck of that to flesh out Nancy. We learn everything about her in as efficient a manner as possible. We get to know her feelings, what she is going through, and why she is at the beach. When she is attacked we care about her and want to see her make it out alive.

Then there is the omnipresent shark that you know will show up the moment she steps into the water. Following the example of Jaws, the creature is hidden or obscured by the environment. Occasionally he will pop his head out before returning to the water at long intervals. It is very simple and rather unremarkable, but for a movie like Shallows, that is how you do it.

My only problem is a directing choice that I hope never becomes mainstream. When Nancy is using her phone, there is a picture-in-picture view of the screen with the scene in progress. You are watching this well shot landscape of a beach and then a video pops up in the corner or a chat window obscures half the picture. This actually happens. Are insert shots not allowed anymore? Are ass-ugly picture-in-picture graphics the new standard? If I see this in more movies, I am out.

Good shark movies are rare and The Shallows is a great find. The minimalist approach to building character and tension made the whole affair seem larger because you become so entrenched. It belongs up there with the likes of Jaws. If you want something simple and compelling that does not take up much time, The Shallows is worth you consideration.

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