Ok, let’s just get it out in the open – Jaws, Jaws, Jaws, Jaws. Spielberg’s classic (and as you’ll ascertain from the title of this blog, my all time favourite movie) both invented, and simultaneously killed a genre. Everyone wanted to make a shark movie after Jaws, but there was no point in making a shark movie after Jaws.
The Shallows centres on Nancy Adams undertaking a pilgrimage to a secluded beach where her now deceased mother went when she was first pregnant. During surfing she stumbles into the feeding ground of a great white, feasting on a dead killer whale. Stranded on a piece of rock until the tide comes in, the film is a sort of 127 Hours on a Lump of Coral. All of the ingredients of the survival movie are in place – seclusion, a misunderstanding with someone who could be a contact, some crucial decisions early on that have consequences later one, etc. A family favourite in our household was the US TV series I Shouldn’t Be Alive, which featured real life tales of people surviving disastrous situations, often despite their best attempts to get themselves killed. The Shallows is like an extended version of one of these episodes.
One of the inherent problems of stranded type movies is that the central character is forced to vocalise inner thoughts, otherwise we’re just staring at someone. A foil can help in this, Wilson in Cast Away, and Steven Seagull in The Shallows. It does lead to unrealistic, awkward monologues “hmm, a camera”.
The climax makes a direct nod to Jaws, with Adams swimming to a life buoy for safety. This is where the film really stretches reality, and could be labelled “The Revenge of Chrissie Watkins”. But at least it’s an attempt to make a decent shark film that isn’t in the Sharknado, or Deep Blue Water vein of ridiculousness, and it has some genuine moments of tension. And maybe the whole thing is an existential metaphor – I mean which of us hasn’t felt like we’re clinging to a rotting whale’s carcass, just yards from safety while dangers swirl around.