By Travis Trombley
The Shallows is a minimal, tense, action-heavy hero’s journey wrapped in a beautiful yet terrifying shark survival film. Despite its triumphs, though, the film isn’t without sins, chiefest among which being not trusting itself to convey information and development without expositional dialogue.
The film stars Blake Lively as Nancy, about whom simple exposition reveals a few insights before people start getting eaten: she dropped out of medical school, her mom lost her fight with cancer, and she’s in a state of personal limbo, preferring to surf her problems away rather than wrestle with an existential disillusionment with medicine or - in general - fighting to survive. Almost all of the film’s 87 minutes focus on Lively’s bikini-clad form, though not in a gratuitous manner (as some of the advertising for the film may have viewers believe). Lively (and her makeup crew) gets props for her acting here, shouldering the film well with appropriate grimaces and stares of determination alike.
Aside from a few one-dimensional locals, most of whom end up as shark-snacks, the film co-stars a rock (the pedestal upon which Lively spends a bulk of the film), a rusty buoy, a bird-companion wonderfully named Steven ‘Seagull,’ a floating whale carcass, an idyllic beach, and Bruce from Finding Nemo. This is all just a long-winded way of saying this is a film about Nancy and the world around her.
In many ways, the film’s minimalism is a celebration of beauty: the camera loves Lively and the environment around her equally. The first twenty minutes of the film play out like a pastoral poem celebrating nature and the simple surfer’s life with sun shining through palm trees, islands that form the shape of a pregnant woman, and picturesque waves of crystal clear water that’s as gorgeous in its own right as it is for showcasing the kaleidoscopic ocean floor. A mix of extreme camera angles (top-down panoramics to board-mounted close-ups) and clever use of sound (silence when Nancy dives beneath the waves and energetic island beats when above water) add a sense of artistic nuance to the natural beauty of the setting.