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When Nancy (Blake Lively) goes surfing alone on a secluded beach, she finds herself on the feeding ground of a great white shark. Though she is stranded only 200 yards from shore, survival proves to be the ultimate test of wills, requiring all of Nancy’s ingenuity, resourcefulness, and fortitude. (From Sony’s official synopsis)

 Shallows, The
Sharks have now been the subject of adventure movies, action blockbusters, B-horror movies, Z-grade made-for-TV garbage, and even indie thrillers. They even dance with Katy Perry at the Super Bowl. So what’s next for these toothy submarines? How about a survival horror movie that pits a shark against a young woman in a battle of wits that is limited to more or less a single location? A sort of two-person drawing room thriller, but, you know, with a shark? Sure, why not – bring on Jaume Collet-Serra’s

The Shallows

. The Spanish-born Collet-Serra’s horror/thriller credentials check out, specifically his work on the surprisingly good House of Wax remake (2005) and the delightfully unhinged Orphan (2009). More recently he has retired to middle-of-the-road action thrillers with ugly colour palettes, like Unknown (2011) and Run All Night (2015). The best of those movies, Non-Stop (2014), verified Collet-Serra’s penchant for suspense in confined spaces and, in retrospect, even feels like a big-budget dry-run for the more intimate and aesthetically interesting The Shallows.

The key to a good limited cast/location thriller is maintaining a suspense for a feature runtime (in this case, 86 minutes, including credits). Once a situation is laid out, there isn’t a lot of room for narrative developments – especially if one of the two main characters is a shark. Sharks don’t have a lot of personality. Anthony Jaswinski’s screenplay is standard boilerplate stuff and it’s really enamored with its central metaphor, in which the shark represents Nacny’s fear of commitment, adulthood, what-have-you following her mother’s untimely death. It’s kind of hackneyed and literally nothing surprising happens the entire film, but it’s par for the survival movie genre – even biographical movies, like Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours (2010), tend to follow this basic motif. Considering that most of this movie is Blake Lively and a shark, Lively’s performance is key to the film’s success. Fortunately, she’s a likable Hollywood-brand princess-to-warrior, rich-girl-trying-to-find-herself stereotype. She’s surprisingly natural, given the bounty of clichés she’s expected to traverse throughout the film. Her brief interactions with other characters are funny and her hardships produce genuine sympathy. She certainly elevates the material until even her Blair Witch Project-styled video confession is moving, despite its hackneyed origins.

 Shallows, The
Bereft of a meaty plot, Collet-Serra delves into his visual repertoire in hopes of extending the narrative. He superimposes images and text from Nancy’s cellphone around the actress in order to extend the character’s backstory, stretches out the best-looking shots with dramatic slow motion, and does interesting things with perspective (would-be saviors continuously disappear behind rising currents). There are moments of real artistry, such as Nancy’s surrealistic swim between glowing, stinging jellyfish. At the same time, The Shallows is full of cheap, nominally effective scares and silly action spectacle. This uneasy marriage of ‘classy filmmaking’ and base-level schlock never quite works, because Collet-Serra doesn’t seem to have it in him to fully commit to either. There aren’t nearly enough surrealistic choices and the schlock feels tame or at least hindered by a vague sense of realism (the shark does things a shark wouldn’t do, but doesn’t do anything a shark couldn’t do) and an unnecessary PG-13 rating. It fills the feature run-time without overstaying its welcome, but is never particularly memorable.


The Shallows was shot using a series of digital HD rigs, including Arri Alexa, Red Epic, and GoPro cameras. The format serves the subject matter well, considering that Collet-Serra and cinematographer Flavio Labiano shoot the film to look like a scary IMAX nature documentary fused with a bathing suit commercial. There is some colour grading and other digital trickery here and there, but, generally speaking, The Shallows is a good-looking movie because it respects the natural beauty of its environments. Details are outrageously sharp, from intimate close-up textures to the beautiful patterns of the expansive, deep-set wide shots. The palette presses orange & teal during the day and blue during the night, but these choices aren’t entirely unrealistic, considering the tropical look of the location. Basically, it is the orange/blue skin tones that appear unnatural – greenery is still lush, blood is still quite red, and Lively’s peach bathing suit is super consistent. Some of the night sequences are so dark that I couldn’t really tell what I was supposed to be looking at, but I assume this was part of the intended design. Gradations are smooth without appearing blocky and the softest blends rarely feature banding effects.

 Shallows, The


The Shallows is presented in a stark and eerie DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound mix. The sound designers integrate a lot of dynamic range and subjective aural points-of-view. While the ambience of the location plays into some scenes (usually contemplative ones), scariness is denoted with silence and sets its mood by elevating and muting effects based on how they related to the main character – i.e. when things are far away from Nancy, she can barely hear them and when they’re close, they take on supernatural qualities. It sounds simple, but it is quite effective. There’s more discrete rear-channel mixing here than many big special effects-driven action movies, which tend to defer to general sound over specific directional representations of off-screen actions (like a bad samaritan getting eaten by a shark). Flavio Labiano’s music is nice, exciting, and very well-mixed (the little electronic additions float throughout the channels beautifully anytime the score really cuts loose). I also found it incredibly intrusive, especially given the effective use of silence heard in the film’s trailers. The music has a nasty habit of ruining the tone by telling us what to expect and read into each scene. That said, the music editing is interesting, especially very noisy pop songs, which cut to silence beneath the waves.


  • Three deleted/extended scenes (4:51, HD)
  • Shooting in The Shallows (5:57, HD) – A general behind-the-scenes EPK about the hardships of making a movie on the water.
  • When Sharks Attack (7:34, HD) – The filmmakers, an expert, and a survivor discuss the nature of shark attacks.
  • How to Build a Shark (6:56, HD) – Another fluffy featurette about the design of the film’s CG monster.
  • Finding The Perfect Beach: Lord Howe Island (6:01, HD) – A look at the bay location that the crew found in Australia (not Mexico).
  • Trailers for other Sony releases

 Shallows, The


The Shallows is a decent idea for a movie, has a strong central performance, and is made with care, but never rises above the level of survival thriller. Its story is too predictable, its central metaphor is too obvious, and there’s no unique twist on the conventions. Universal’s Blu-ray looks and sounds absolutely fabulous, so fans should be happy, even though the extras are bland EPK fluff.

 Shallows, The

 Shallows, The

 Shallows, The
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.