‘The Shallows’ fin-tastically surprises audiences

Sea-riously Scary: The movie poster for “The Shallows” is a visual reference to that of the 1975 classic “Jaws,” in that it depicts a shark below an unsuspecting victim. During a recent press junket, Blake Lively revealed that she has never actually seen “Jaws” due to a childhood fear of sharks.

Colleen Kelly

This movie shouldn’t have been as good as it was.

Having recently lost her mother, young medical student Nancy (Blake Lively) travels to Mexico in search of her mother’s favorite secluded surfing beach. After an idyllic first day, Nancy swims too closely to a dead whale and attracts a feeding great white shark which quickly attacks her. Stranded alone on a small rock far from shore, Nancy has to use her wits to escape the stalking shark and the harsh ocean elements.

It makes me furious how much fun I had with this movie. The trailers released for “The Shallows” marketed it as a campy, run-of-the-mill monster shark movie that everyone said looked terrible, and I admittedly went into it with my mind made up already. “The Shallows” was indeed incredibly campy at times, and the whole great-white-sharks-are-all-calculating-killers schtick is both inaccurate and done to death. However, this movie was exactly the right kind of campy. In fact, it was the most fun I’ve had at the movies this whole summer and easily the best made shark movie since the original “Jaws.”

First of all, I have to point out what a genuine delight it was that this movie’s main character Nancy was so smart. Granted, she is a medical student, so she is smarter than your typical person in that situation would be, but all of her choices still made logical sense. She studied and timed the circling shark to figure out a window of opportunity, utilized basic organic chemistry and took a calculated risk with a smack of jellyfish. This wasn’t one of those brainless action/horror movies where characters make stupid decisions that make audiences shout at the screen. All of Nancy’s decisions made sense, but she was still fallible enough that the situation was always dangerous and suspenseful (sharks are a huge fear of mine, and this movie did a great job in playing up the fear factor).

Lively was great in the role, if somewhat of an over-actor at times. The script itself called for a healthy dash of campiness, so it makes sense that the lead actress would give a cheesy performance to match. Like I said, though, it was a fun kind of campy, and when you aren’t totally engrossed in the unrelenting danger, you’re grin-cringing at some quotably bad lines. What I commend Lively on the most, though, was the physicality of her role. She did all of her own stunts and spent months prior to filming learning to surf at her character’s level. Lively has more than proven herself a dedicated and capable actress in a hands-on action role.

The cinematography is extremely pleasing to the eye. The entire movie was filmed in Australia, so it’s a given that the scenery would be gorgeous, but director Jaume Collet-Serra didn’t get lazy and let his work end there. The editing is crisp, the colors pop and beach looks fantastical and surreal from start to finish. The CGI shark, too, was well-made and believable to the story. However, I will critique the movie’s overuse of slow-motion shots. They were self-indulgent and played a big part in the movie’s overall campiness.

What set out to be one of the worst movies of the summer turned out to be one of my new gill-ty pleasures. “The Shallows” is a movie with a lot of bite to it in terms of strong storytelling and semi-unintentional humor. Go into this movie open-minded and you’ll have a bloody good time.