By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com
Wilmington on Movies: The Shallows
THE SHALLOWS (Three Stars)
U.S.; Jaime Collet-Serra, 2016
The Shallows is a genuinely scary movie thriller that spooks you because, in a way, it seems so real — this tense, taut movie manages to get by without ghosts, monsters, supernatural maniacs or The Devil, indeed without almost anything that absolutely couldn’t happen (maybe) in the real world. Like Jaws, it’s the white-knuckle, full-throttle story of a battle between human vs. shark: a visually voluptuous thriller, set in a mostly deserted stretch of Australian coast, about a great white shark that traps a young surfer and medical student on an ocean-bound rock and buoy only about 200 yards from shore — a deserted beach near an ocean that is mostly empty except for that trapped girl and that toothy shark and one other creature we‘ll introduce later. (You’ll like him.)
The sheer closeness of the beach to the rock in the ocean, shot on Lord Howe Island in the Australian coastal wilderness 600 nautical miles from Sydney, and the fact that a Great White Shark relentlessly prowls the waters between that are the swimmer’s only escape route, becomes almost maddening. Maybe this couldn’t happen, maybe no Great White Shark would act like this. But while you’re watching the movie (written by Anthony Jaswinski), it seems plausible enough to keep you wondering how to outguess or outswim the damned thing.
The young woman, Nancy Adams (played by Blake Lively of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and “Gossip Girl”) is an almost foolishly brave and self-confident student and surfer who’s gone to the Australian outlands because she’s mourning the recent death of her mother. Nancy, who probably got her spirit of adventure from her mom, doesn’t bother telling anybody exactly where she‘s going (except the curly-heeded local guide who brought her there , played by Oscar Jaenada). And she ignores the warning of the proximity of the sharks nearby feeding ground, a great floating whale corpse with juicy slabs of meat hanging out of his side. Instead, Nancy the prospective medico (her medical acumen will come in handy later) immerses herself in the almost ethereally beautiful landscape (shot by Flavio Labiano), the crashing waves, the hot sun, the high sky.
When the shark appears and starts attacking her, leaving one of her legs a bloody mess, the other surfers have gone away, and as the tide rises, her situation becomes more and more dangerous. She talks to herself, screams with rage and pain, occasionally dives into the perilous waters, desperately searches for an escape or the sight of another human. Then she swims back to her shaky, fragile refuge on the rock. The tide keeps rising; death swims only yards away. She has one friend, one creature sharing her nightmare: a small wounded seagull played by six different gulls, but mostly by a splendid little bird actor named Sully,
The Shallows, directed by the Spanish-both suspense specialist Jaime Collet-Serra is, I think, a more heart-pounding thriller than Collet-Serra‘s three huge Liam Neeson suspense hits, Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night (all shot by his fellow countryman Labiano), because it doesn’t push too hard or stretch credulity too far. The music, by Marco Beltrami (Wes Craven’s Bernard Herrmann), pumps everything up. Blake Lively and Sully are a extremely engaging protagonists, and their shark nemesis, primarily a CGI creation, is a shivery antagonist. Because this movie is not a spook fantasy, or a sadistic romp, it becomes scarier than all those cinematic sons and daughters of The Exorcist and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre smashed together.
.Nancy and Sully are quite a pair — or perhaps we should say Nancy, Sully and the shark are quite a threesome. If Oscars were handed out to animals or birds, Sully, who is both photogenic and lovable, would be a shoo-in. And Lively makes us believe that she ‘s got the brains of a medical student, the endurance of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, and the pluck to keep fighting back. As for the shark, we can believe he’s hungry. And persistent. And someone, something, you don’t want to meet in the water at Lord Howe Island or anywhere else. Unless you’ve got a pal like little Sully to share the nightmare.