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This is the absolute dictionary definition of a mixed bag! I had heard the hype, I had seen the trailers, I had faith in Blake Lively and I was so prepared to be terrified by this movie, and I was! I was also made to laugh at the absolutely terrible script, the crowbarred in back story and the utter ridiculousness of the shark’s capabilities!
I’ll start with the good. The middle act of this movie is sheer terror! I was fist clenched and white knuckled the whole time. Insanely well shot footage that is edited with the kind of heart-thumping, breath stopping skills I’ve only experienced in recent memory in Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room from earlier this year.
There is no such thing as hyperbole when explaining how tense some of these scenes play out and I honestly believe that if the back story had been minimised a bit and these cat and mouse (or shark and human) shenanigans had been extended then we would be looking at a contender for scariest film of the year here!
The other factor that really pulls this film together is Blake Lively! Who would have thought it? She has put in some decent acting work along the way in what little we have currently seen of her on the big screen however she really carries this film by being the only character in the piece for more than 5 minutes. It’s a lot of screaming and grunting in pain whilst in a bikini but she sells it and she deserves all the attention she is getting for her job here.
The film also flies (or swims) along at a pace we don’t often see anymore. Clocking in at just over 86 minutes with credits is pretty impressive and it really works. Jodie Foster’s Money Monster did it earlier this year to great effect and The Shallows succeeds in very much the same way. A short rush of blood to the head that leaves you to consider the carnage after the fact.
A final quick mention goes to the seagull with the broken wing that Nancy befriends. Not since Black Phillip in Robert Egger’s The Witch has an animal demanded such admiration of the audience. I won’t spoil the name of said seagull but it is the only comedic beat in this movie and it works very well.
Now onto the bad. The script is stupendously silly! The basic premise is a medical student called Nancy (Lively) has dropped out of school and gone to a beach in Mexico to surf where her Mum used to go when she was her age. Her mum has passed away recently due to some form of cancer and the world doesn’t make sense to Nancy anymore, much to the chagrin of her father and sister who Nancy spends the first act of this film FaceTiming for what seems like forever. Then she is left alone to surf and this crazy shark attacks out the blue, leaving her with nothing but her medical knowledge and sheer will to survive (which she got from her Mother’s fight with cancer).
That in itself isn’t a terrible setup however the conversations she has, with her family, with herself, with the seagull, are so cringeworthily bad that it really made me miss the presence of the shark again. I get that this is a modern take on a B-movie, and it probably isn’t as bad as the Sharknado franchise although I can’t speak to them as I actually haven’t checked those out yet, however I can’t help but feel that if the exposition wasn’t so heavily laid out for us like the idiots we are so clearly thought to be, then the film could have really be elevated to something more than just popcorn shocks.
The last point I want to make I will try to do so without spoiling anything however, some of the actions both Nancy and the shark make in the final third of this movie were so jaw-droppingly insane that a lot of my tension turned to laugh out loud mocking at the incredulity of it all. This is on a par with Renny Harlin’s 1999 classic Deep Blue Sea in terms of a shark having intelligence enough to plan different stages of attack both above and below the water. Again, I realise this is a B-movie feature however it is set up as quite a realistic turn of events and ends in a way that had me literally palming my face!
So, to sum up… This gets a recommendation from me due to a great performance from Blake Lively, some truly wonderful cinematography from Flavio Martinez Labiane mixed with top notch editing from Joel Negron that result in some of the most intense and scary scenes i’ve seen all year. It could have been so much more if Anthony Jaswinski’s script had been thrown in the bin and some thought had gone into the words that were coming out of character’s mouths. I will watch this film again for sure, hopefully with a large group of people and with beer involved. Until then though, please let me know what you thought!