The Shallows (2016)
Studio: Sony Pictures
Release date: September 27th, 2016
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Note: here's my review of The Shallows from back in June.
Generally speaking, this is has been a terrific year for horror. What’s more, it hasn’t even just been confined to the indie ranks that have been propping the genre up, often compensating for weak wide-release theatrical slates. Not so this year: you know how we’ll sometimes look back and marvel that a bunch of revered films were somehow playing all at once in theaters back in the 80s? Well, I think future generations might do that for 2016 when they realize that, at one point, an American theater could have housed The Neon Demon, The Conjuring 2, Purge: Election Year, and The Shallows at the same time. That’s pretty solid.
And out of all of these, it should come as little surprise that the one where a goddamn shark terrorizes Blake Lively would emerge as my favorite. After suffering through dozens of terrible shark movies for nearly a decade now (wait, what?), the universe owed me this one. I think it must have felt particularly guilty too because it put Jaume Collet-Serra at the helm of this magnificent gift from the cinema overlords. It’s almost enough to make me forget that I sat through the likes of Psycho Shark and Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre. Almost.
At this point, there’s no one better suited to take the reins of a dumb shark movie, precisely because Collet-Serra knows he’s dealing with a dumb shark movie. But where so many filmmakers (and bad movie factories like The Asylum) mistake that as an opportunity to look down on the material and invite their audience to feel above it, he approaches it on its own terms. There’s perhaps a wry sense of self-awareness, but, for the most part, The Shallows is exactly what its premise promises: Blake Lively fighting for her life in the middle of the ocean against a giant, man-eating shark. It’s harrowing, thrilling, suspenseful, and only slightly corny, but it’s nothing if not earnest. Collet-Serra does not disappoint, though I do still wish the climax were as deliriously unhinged as some of his previous work.
Of course, that’s why he’s behind the camera and I’m behind a keyboard. His somewhat unexpected sense of restraint is probably necessary: in a world where over-the-top bullshit is fashionable for this genre, it makes sense that The Shallows remains “relatively” grounded. Note the “relatively” qualifier because I don’t want to imply that the film is without its silly moments—it’s just that anything short of SyFy-level garbage seems grounded. I mean, one of the most crucial relationships in the film is a bond that forms between Lively and a seagull (affectionately named “Steven Seagull”), so don’t mistake Collet-Serra’s occasional restraint as a reflection of the film’s overall approach. This is junk, but it’s terrific junk pitched right at the sweet spot: it’s not a cloying exercise in self-aware irony, nor is it a grim, deadly serious ordeal.
It’s cinema distilled to its purest elements: a girl, a shark, and the vast, terrifying sea. When a director manages to wring one hell of a movie out of those elements, it’s just flexing. I think it’s safe to induct Collet-Serra into the David R. Ellis wing of maestro schlock masters.
In case you were wondering about my dedication to this whole shark movie thing, rest assured that my movie room features an entire shelf devoted solely to this dubious genre. Most new additions are tossed in out of obligation, usually in the form of bargain-priced used discs. However, The Shallows will be the rare release that will proudly take its place as one of the top 3 movies on that particular shelf. Released to home video by Sony Pictures, the Blu-ray is the obvious choice to experience a film with such gorgeous scenery (unless you’ve upgraded to 4K, in which case I can only imagine The Shallows will look even more glorious). Its slick visuals are among the film’s chief virtues, and the high-definition presentation doesn’t disappoint: this is a movie that pops, arguably even more so than it did in theaters if you were stuck in a shoddy multiplex that doesn’t bother to properly calibrate its equipment.
A decent array of supplements accompanies the main feature as well, including 5 minutes of deleted scenes and a handful of featurettes dedicated to certain aspects of production. “Shooting in the Shallows” documents the difficult task of filming on location, while “How to Build a Shark” details how the crew blended CGI and practical effects to craft its creature. Like the other aptly-named features, “Finding the Perfect Location” is exactly what it sounds like, which I think is what you want from a movie titled The Shallows. Finally, “When Sharks Attack” takes a look at some harrowing real-life encounters between man and beast.
All told, it’s a solid package that’s outfitted with a cool lenticular slipcase to boot, though that will either excite you or irritate you depending upon your persuasion (as a slipcase agnostic, I must admit that I am quite taken with the lenticular nature of this one—the water on the cover turns red in the right light, you guys). My only real complaint is that none of the (several) pull quotes belong to me—at this point, who is more qualified to gauge the quality of shark cinema?
I joke (sort of), but I am not kidding when I say The Shallows is a real highlight of 2016 so far. Any year that can boast a legitimately great shark movie is a special one. Here’s hoping it’s not the last time we’ll be able to say that this decade. Your move, Mandy Moore. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: