I wouldn’t normally go see a survival picture about a shark in theatres, but I love Jaume Collet-Serra and I’ve been having a shitty week, so I needed something nice to do for myself.
Collet-Serra has sort of made a habit of making movies that I like but wouldn’t have expected to, starting with 2005’s House of Wax. He also made the surprisingly good Orphan in 2009, before going on to helm a string of mostly undistinguished Taken-alikes (though Non-Stop has the distinction of being maybe the best of that breed). I’ve seen all of his movies at this point, except for the 2007 soccer film Goal II. The Shallows marks the first time that he’s waded into the waters of the horror genre since Orphan.
The Shallows isn’t Jaws, the movie to which it is most likely to be compared. It’s more like the movie that people who have never seen Jaws assume that Jaws is. (Actually, that’s probably Jaws 2.) A more apt comparison to The Shallows might be 2003’s Open Water, a film I never actually saw for the same reasons that I probably wouldn’t have gone to see The Shallows were it not for Collet-Serra’s name in the credits (and one really good trailer).
With an almost insanely stripped-down premise and a lean running time of only 86 minutes, The Shallows is a trifle where Jaws is an epic. It’s a film of modest scope and modest ambitions that ekes out plenty of tension from its core concept and allows Collet-Serra to indulge his aesthetic touch in gorgeous shots of the secret beach and plenty of nice underwater camerawork.
Don’t get me wrong, The Shallows gets plenty big and ridiculous in its final reel. Whether it gets too ridiculous or not quite ridiculous enough will probably depend on where your tolerance for Collet-Serra’s previous work lies. After all, taking a premise that doesn’t really need to be amazing and pushing it past where most people would (perhaps wisely) stop is sort of his stock in trade (see the ending of, well, most of his films). I love that about his movies, and if you love it, too, then you’ll probably be on board with The Shallows‘ final conflict.
Even if you’re not, though, there are moments throughout this movie that would not have been there had anyone but Collet-Serra been behind the camera. See an early shot with a whale carcass, or an underwater moment featuring jellyfish. For me, The Shallows is a movie that’s better than it needs to be, from a director who has pretty much made a career out of making movies that are better than they need to be, but never quite as good as I want them to be. I feel like Collet-Serra still has a horror masterpiece in the chamber somewhere, if he can find the right project. The Shallows isn’t it, but if you want to see Blake Lively and a wounded seagull fight a shark, and are ready for things to get a little silly before they’re done, then it’s a good way to spend 86 minutes.