Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra, Script. Anthony Jaswinski
Cast: Blake Lively
Plot: Blake Lively goes to surf on a secret beach, which also happens to have a shark in it.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall at the script meeting for the latest Sony Pictures pseudo-horror, The Shallows – how I would love to see distressed producers and studio moneymen with jaws to the floor, knowing that $17m of studio money had been poured into a project that, if a script did exist, couldn’t possibly have cracked twenty pages. And yet, director Jaume Collet-Serra was so satisfied with this treatment that he asked for absolutely nothing else. As you may have seen from the marketing campaigns, this movie is already starting to become the ‘Blake Lively vs. A Shark’ film, and that’s really the only plot point of the film, minus a exposition sequence jammed in there so as to provide ‘investment’ and ‘character relatability’. However, this bare-bones screenplay from Anthony Jaswinski is pretty taut for the most part, and Jaswinski ensures that everything that happens in some way advances, or worsens, the situation of the stricken Blake Lively.
According to the ex-Gossip Girl star, she wanted to take this movie on as husband Deadpool had done a similarly minimalist pic, but while Ryan Reynolds’s ability to carry a film on his back is now undisputed, these types of films are extremely difficult to pull off, for the lead actor especially. Lively is tasked with carrying this movie, with only a little amount of dialogue and a large amount of screaming in pain, on her own, for at least an hour of The Shallows‘ justifiably short 86 minutes. Unfortnuately, Lively isn’t the most brilliant anchor here – the constant screaming grows tiresome (although a couple of injury close-ups aren’t for the squeamish), and she doesn’t quite hold the frame against the shark, nor the wonderful environment in which The Shallows was filmed. However, Lively has to receive some credit for giving a very thinly-written character more depth than she is entitled, a Cast Away-style relationship she develops with an injured bird is somewhat funny (and not just because of said bird’s truly hilarious name), and at the end of the day Blake Lively is somebody you want to get back to shore, somebody you do want to survive.
With only Lively and a beautifully secluded beach, director Jaume Collet-Serra, best known for his Liam Neeson fetish (having worked with him on Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night), has one hell of a playground to work in. The Shallows is one of the best looking films of this year actually, with a lot of wide-angle work, beautiful underwater landscapes with oncoming waves looking like apocalyptic storms, and some absolutely terrific cinematography and framing from Flavio Labiano. You sometimes find that people are forgetting when to pull in for the close-up and when to pull out for the wide, but The Shallows‘ filmmakers know exactly when to do it, and the film they’ve ended up putting together is visually superb. I must criticise the actual horror direction though – while Collet-Serra’s device of having a wave come over the characters and then the characters just vanish is effective, the build-up doesn’t justify the pay-off. The sequences of ancillary characters getting Jaws’d are a little too sanitary, and while the shark itself is an impressively lifelike creation, it doesn’t quite feel as scary as I would have liked. There’s no escaping the fact that The Shallows is not that deep of a movie (86 minutes is really longer than the plot deserves), there’s enough okay scares, lovely shots and a game Blake Lively to crash on the sofa for an hour and a half and turn your brain down to fully dormant.
BEST WATCHED: You can probably skip this one, but if it hits Netflix and you have a good TV, you won’t be disappointed.
Lively, clearly not afraid of going for challenging roles, next plays a blind woman in psychological thriller All I See Is You, co-starring with Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes‘ Jason Clarke, and under the direction of Quantum Of Solace helmsman Marc Forster. Also, the usually proficient Jaume Collet-Serra (he’s making about a film a year at the minute) has lined up his next project, returning to the action genre with The Commuter, and you will not be surprised who he has lined up to star in it.