***1/2 (out of five)
If you’re an admirer of Blake Lively (Savages, The Age of Adaline), see The Shallows, for it’s a fair bet that no movie ever again will devote to her so much adoring screen time. Essentially (though not literally) a one-man show á la Castaway, this surf-and-shark tale, a cunning little B-movie from Spanish genre whiz Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, Orphan, Run All Night) revels in Lively’s Californian limbs and freckles, her sun-blanched healthy wholesomeness. It cannot get enough of her.
She plays Nancy, a med student on a pilgrimage to a “secret beach” in Mexico that her surfer mother told her about before succumbing to cancer. While surfing there she accidentally infringes on a shark’s dinnertime, and the shark comes after her. Survival ensues.
If Jaws is the best shark movie, and Open Water is the creepiest shark movie, The Shallows is the most sensual shark movie. Between Lively’s exquisite features (and limbs – we really get to know this actress’s gams) and the stunning bay (the film was actually shot in Queensland, Australia) it’s a deeply beautiful film, gorgeously and inventively shot by Flavio Martínez Labiano. The shark is almost incidental, which is what keeps the movie from achieving some sort of genre greatness.
It may not be great, but it is bloody good. It’s crazy tight, extremely well thought-out (as another critic noted, by halfway through we the audience are totally in command of the bay’s logistics) and Lively, mostly in close-up and mostly in peril, is excellent; indeed, perfect. It’s hard to imagine her being nominated for serious awards for this role, but it must be said that Meryl Streep herself couldn’t do it better. It’s a fully believable and utterly absorbing genre performance. I will await her next movie eagerly, although I suspect that The Shallows is going to remain her signature role for quite a while. And she has every reason to be proud of that.