Movie review: Blake Lively surprises in shark thriller The Shallows

Blake Lively plays a medical student stranded in the feeding grounds of a great white shark.
Blake Lively plays a medical student stranded in the feeding grounds of a great white shark.PHOTO: SONY PICTURES RELEASING INTERNATIONAL

Blake Lively shows off her acting chops in this B-movie with nothing more than a CGI shark and the elements to play off



86 minutes/Opens tomorrow/2.5/5 stars

The story: While surfing off an isolated beach in Mexico, medical student Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) finds herself in the feeding grounds of a great white shark. Stranded alone on a rock, with the high tide approaching, and then a buoy, she has to find a way back to shore.

Nancy's backstory, like her bikini, is barely there. The remote surf spot she goes to is the same one her late mother used to visit - it is the only skimpy reason she would stay on there when the only two other surfers in the water leave the place.

And so she is set up for disaster.

The film relies on such convenient plot points and primal instincts to carry it past 80 minutes, but with thrills aplenty, it should nonetheless satisfy fans of B-grade creature features.

The sunlit surf which Lively (or her stunt double) expertly cuts through provides some truly stunning cinematography by Flavio Labiano. Then Nancy's day goes south once the shark knocks her off the board and she crashes against a surfbreak and starts bleeding.

Taking refuge on a dead whale first and then a rock perch conveniently jutting out of the ocean, Lively still manages to look goddess-like even while her character is on the brink of hypothermia and dehydration after spending two days at sea.

With nothing more than a CGI shark and the elements to play off, it is quite a task for Lively to keep it real.

She does a decent job of it, proving her acting chops with every ordeal the protagonist suffers and overcomes with resourcefulness, from stinging corals to suturing her wounds, Rambo-style.

The tension that is kept taut for about an hour into the movie as woman battles shark becomes tiresome in the final third - you will find it hard to root for her any longer.

Unlike in Jaws where the great white shark Bruce picks off one side character after another, all the audience here has is Nancy's one-on-one battles with its distant cousin.

With no other possible victim in sight, you know she is not going to be shark food, no matter how many brushes with death she has.

The shark's bloodlust for her goes on for too long, even if highlighting a bikini-clad Lively for the entire duration of the movie is probably what the producers were counting on to sell tickets.

While the actress does a commendable job displaying gumption in the face of a leery shark - which is all very unexpected for a star better known for her clotheshorse appeal as TV series Gossip Girl's Serena van der Woodsen or for her ethereal appearance in Age Of Adaline (2015) - there is little else carrying the movie.

The breakout star here is an injured bird - a seagull Nancy names Steven - which stays with her throughout most of her ordeal and provides comic relief befitting a B-movie.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Lone woman battles leery shark'. Print Edition | Subscribe