Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Jaws: The Female Edition

Back in 2010, Ryan Reynolds starred in a particularly good claustrophobic thriller called Buried where he was trapped on his own for 90 minutes and survival seemed unlikely. Now, in 2016, his wife is doing a similar thing. This is The Shallows. 

On a travelling holiday, Nancy (Blake Lively) finds herself on a beach that her late mother visited many years before and the beach is home to one of the most phenomenal surfs around. Grabbing her board, Nancy hits the waves, makes some friends, and catches some waves. As the sun begins to set she decides that after the next wave, she will call it a day. That is, until a great white shark knocks her off her board, bites her leg, and leaves her stranded on a small rock with no rescue in sight. With the tide against her, and having invaded the shark's territory, she will have to get inventive in order to survive.

Solo movies are hard work. The lead performer has to be captivating enough to hold the audience's attention between the action and engaging enough for us to care about them when danger approaches. If you fail in this respect, the film will instantly fall flat. Fortunately, Blake Lively is in fine form. She's smart, strong, and resilient, and whilst the filmic landscape around her may lack clarity,  she performs with all of the conviction required of a leading role. In this day and age, it is so crucial to portray women in a way that does not treat them as secondary to men and if The Shallows has one major success, it is Blake Lively. Whilst some of the early shots are not dissimilar to soft-core pornography, as the film progresses Lively overpowers the male gaze of the camera. Not only does her character, Nancy, fashion her own tourniquet out of a wet suit, she also demonstrates a far greater survival instinct and understanding of her surroundings than any of the men that appear throughout the film.

One part 127 Hours, one part Jaws, but not quite living up to the standard of either,  The Shallows struggles to balance realism or logic with the story the film makers want to tell. Whilst the action is consistently exciting and suspenseful, characters' reasonings get lost at sea. From inexplicably located flare guns to straight up strange decision making, from disappearing dead bodies to never-turning tides, the film suffers from a sloppy approach. A few extra hours editing the script and a bit more focus in shooting and post-production would have helped hugely. The essentials of a great film are all there but it feels like they've been torn apart by the film's aquatic antagonist and messily pieced back together by Jaume Collet-Serra, the film's director.

A sloppy script and a lack of care has left The Shallows feeling a bit washed up. It is not beyond redemption - the keen survival film fan will find plenty to enjoy - but for the rest of us, the film is little more than shallow entertainment.