Any film about a killer shark will inevitably be compared to “Jaws” (usually unfavorably, which is probably why we don’t see many of them). But “The Shallows,” in which Blake Lively is pestered by a shark near a picturesque Mexican beach, dares to invoke the sacred memory of Hollywood’s first summer blockbuster and comes away from it looking pretty good. Stripped to its bare essentials by screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski and directed with tense efficiency by Jaume Collet-Serra (“Run All Night,” “Orphan”), it’s a no-frills woman-vs.-nature thriller that renews our national fear of sharks while making a strong case for Blake Lively as an action heroine.
Lively plays Nancy, a Texas surfer (yes, they have them) who has come to Mexico to find a secluded beach spoken of by her late mother. With her traveling companion hungover back at the hotel, Nancy makes her way alone to the beach, which not one but two locals refuse to tell her the name of. (This should be a red flag.) While surfing, Nancy suffers a serious but non-life-threatening injury, takes refuge on a tiny rock island, and realizes she’s in even worse trouble: between her rock and the shore are a couple hundred feet of ocean and at least one very hungry shark.
And that’s about it, storywise. Other elements include a few other humans, a seagull, some jellyfish, stinging coral, a floating whale carcass, and a GoPro camera attached to the shark-bitten remains of a surfer’s helmet, but the film refuses to be distracted by any of them. Laser-focused on building suspense and fear, the film is barely interested in the backstory or character attributes of its protagonist, let alone secondary details. No, it’s essentially a one-woman show, and Lively carries it off with grit, resourcefulness (Nancy is a medical student, thank goodness), emotion, and the appropriate amount of being terrified. Collet-Serra expertly keeps us breathless through it all, delivering a B movie that can swim competitively with the main attractions.
B (1 hr., 26 min.; )