Sunday, 28 August 2016

The Shallows by Anthony Jaswinski

 In The Shallow a young woman called Nancy is stranded in sight of land, indeed, a mere stroll from the shore, cut off by a relentless shark.  

Nancy is a surfer (the film features some snazzy surfing sequences) in a remote part of Mexico, who finds herself perched on a tiny rocky “island” about the size of a double bed, watching the fin of a great white circling her.

Nancy is played by Blake Lively, who has previously appeared in some superior films including the science fiction oddity The Age of Adaline and Ben Affleck's crime thriller The Town.

One very smart move on the part of Anthony Jaswinski's script is making her a medical student, so she can try and repair the shark bite in her leg in a visceral scene involving earrings and a sharp pendant. Ouch. 

Another smart move was giving Nancy an injured seagull, also stranded, as her companion on her tiny island. When she grabs the seagull, whom she amusingly nicknames “Steven”, I was worried she was going to wring his neck and drink his blood. But no, thank god, she uses her medical knowledge to reset his dislocated wing. 

The seagull is so terrifically engaging, smart and cute, that I thought he must be a computer generated figment. But, holy guano, he's a real bird Sully the Seagull! A star in the making.

The Shallows is a nice little movie and quite suspenseful. Blake Lively is plucky and appealing, and evidently did her own surfing... So is it churlish of me to suggest that our heroine doesn't quite have the star power required for the part? Probably. Nevertheless, Jessica Alba, where are you when we need you? 

The film has striking photography by Flavio Martínez Labiano and is directed by the Barcelonan Jaume Collet-Serra. Now, in these posts I tend to concentrate on the writers rather than the directors — after all, I am a writer myself.

But Collet-Serra has a great track record, including a couple of my favourite movies of recent years, the breathtaking psychological horror flick Orphan and the highly superior Liam Neeson thriller Unknown (Collet-Serra rather specialises in Liam Neeson thrillers, with three to his credit and a fourth in the works).

Writer Jaswinski, perhaps not surprisingly, has some horror films on his CV and here he's turned in a smart, compact, resourceful script... although a couple of times it’s not clear enough about what’s happening. 

Why does Nancy have to abandon her tiny island for the nearby buoy? Evidently because the tide is rising to the point where the island will be entirely underwater. But, as I say, not clear enough. 

Much worse is the oil slick she ignites with a flare gun. Where the hell did that come from? Not the flare gun... that's painstakingly set up. But the goddamn oil slick.

However, much the most lamentable thing about the movie, and one that must be blamed on the director is the insistence on putting images and video from Nancy's phone up on the screen in big floating vignettes. Is this really going to be the convention from now on? 

Nerve frequently did similar things, though with far more justification. If this is going to be a convention, it’s a shitty one because it’s a major distraction and destroys any mood or sense of reality. 

The Shallows also shares with Nerve some wretchedly bland pop music on the soundtrack, though thank heavens there's far less here. And The Shallows does at least have a proper score by the redoubtable Marco Beltrami. 

In the end, despite all caveats, this is a better than average summer thriller and an honourable mention is due. Plus, did I mention the great seagull? 

(Image credits: Posters from Imp Awards.)

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