Tis the season of sun and stupidity at the movies, so ‘The Shallows’ is here to serve up buckets full of both and disappear before tedium sets in. The premise couldn’t be simpler and the style couldn’t be more overblown. It’s a CGI shark vs. a Hollywood starlet and nothing else, certainly not logic.
You’ll either zone out immediately or giggle excessively. There will be no in-between, nor should there be. This is boneheaded entertainment for folks who like such things (ironically or otherwise) and the movie doesn’t pretend to be anything else for a split second. It’s also proof that Jaume Collet-Serra (‘Non-Stop‘, ‘Orphan‘) is a new master of preposterous pop, even if it still remains unclear if he’s completely aware of just how funny his movies are.
Blake Lively stars as Nancy, a wayward yet gorgeous twenty-something who needs to work out some of the big problems in her life with a tropical getaway. In this case, she’s getting over a recent breakup and the death of her mother. The only way she can possibly learn to be herself again and return to medical school is to surf it out in a secret Mexican surfer’s paradise. She gets there immediately, has a quick Facetime conversation to cover all the backstory (visualized through pop-up split screens on a beach backdrop to ensure that even the exposition is overstimulating), and then hits those tasty waves.
After a brief and meaningless conversation with a couple of surfer dudes, Nancy finds a giant whale carcass being eaten by a great white shark. For some reason, that shark thinks that the Hollywood thin model/actress will be a tastier and more nourishing meal. So the shark attacks, leaving Nancy wounded on a rock desperate for help. From there, it’s an hour of Nancy trying to outwit an animal that is inexplicably determined to eat her and only her, in between conversations with a wounded seagull that she dubs “Steven Seagull.” Yeah, it’s pretty great.
First up, it has to be noted that this is by far the most preposterous shark to take up bad guy duty on a movie since that Great White jerk followed Ellen Brody across an ocean in ‘Jaws: The Revenge’. Not only does this toothy CGI bad boy avoid all common biological impulses of its kind, it goes ahead and defies some laws of physics as well. There’s no reason why the shark should want to feast on Lively other than that’s the plot of the movie, but it does. In fact, whenever other humans enter the scene, the shark merely tears them apart to intimidate Lively, while waiting to finally feast on her. Some may find this sort of ludicrous storytelling irritating to no end. Others will marvel at the stupendous stupidity of it all and how director Collet-Serra keeps the silly scares and ridiculous set-pieces pumping with barely any breaks.
The CGI shark may look a bit Syfy Channel-ish (which is really just part of the contemporary B-movie charm), but everything else looks gorgeous. The impossibly vibrant beach beauty and underwater shots offer delightful eye candy and Collet-Sierra keeps the beauty shots coming even in the midst of an endless stream of bloody PG-13 shark attacks. The guy is a genuinely talented stylist and seems unwilling to deliver a movie that doesn’t overload ADD brains with stimulation every 2-3 minutes.
Lively carries the film just fine, playing it straight and acting as credible as possible while nursing a puppet seagull back to health or firing flares that set the ocean on fire. (Don’t ask, just enjoy.) The movie has the tight pace and lack of bullshit that a good B-movie needs, setting up a silly premise and sticking with it to the most ridiculous lengths. Some deliberate gags offer laughs, but the biggest goofs come from just how ridiculous the filmmaker is willing to push his premise. The final battle is practically slapstick presented in an overblown a manner that any lover of good trash can’t help but applaud.
Few mainstream movies are this willfully and playfully stupid to an extreme, but that’s this director’s specialty. This is the man who hid a bomb in a briefcase full of cocaine on an airplane in ‘Non-Stop’ and actually committed to the twist ending of ‘Orphan’ with a straight face. He’s willing to go insane in the name of entertainment and then shoots his movies like cartoons to create a lunatic world where no contrivance goes too far. If anything, it’s like the director challenges himself to go so far over the top that he’s creating ironic parodies out of scripts designed to be genuine B-movies. It’s tough to say given that Collet-Serra doesn’t’ exactly make art movies on the side. His specialty is silly studio claptrap with a wink. If ‘The Shallows’ isn’t his finest hour, it’s at least his most efficient. There’s nothing to be endured here. The movie is just one big goofy overblown moment after another, held together by a premise so simple that there’s no chance to indulge in anything beyond sheer, silly shark fantasy.
The Syfy network wishes it could make a movie like ‘The Shallows’, and one day it will play it in a marathon building up to the release of ‘Sharnado vs. Octoquake 2: The Second Stupid’ or whatever. For now, you can go see a stylishly constructed and straight-faced goof on modern sharksploitation executed with a Hollywood budget and projected on a big screen. That’s some fun stuff that shouldn’t be missed during popcorn season. One or two more delightfully dumb confections like this and Jaume Collet-Serra could become a cult director for folks who like their B-movies ramped up with cartoonish insanity. It’ll probably happen. Feel free to enjoy him now before enough think pieces and video essay rants force the filmmaker to prove that he’s in on the joke and start making actual comedies that will spoil all the fun that he currently cranks out sincerely.