THE SHALLOWS is the best PG-13 horror movie since THE RING in 2002.
Sixteen years later, and we have something as special as the closet-door reveal of the corpse of a teenage girl who has been scared to death: Blake Lively versus Great White Shark.
THE SHALLOWS is a survival horror film, not a creature feature according to the director, that features a Texan surfer stranded merely 200 yards from the shore in a thrilling game of cat and mouse with a female Great White shark (they used a female shark because they are bigger in size and scarier to look, at due to the scars they receive during mating).
Director Jaume Collet-Serra (RUN ALL NIGHT, ORPHAN, HOUSE OF WAX — the one with Paris Hilton) is responsible for a brand new genre of grindhouse cinema: Blakesploitation.
THE SHALLOWS treats us to 86-minutes of Blake Lively. She’s in every scene. She’s in almost every shot. We see her smiling on the beach. We see her 3D composite face overlaid on a professional surfer. And of course, we see her in terror as a big, pissed off Great White shark bears down on her.
Throughout all of these roller coaster moments, she’s photographed beautifully.
Cinematographer Flavio Labiano uses all the gifts this production has to offer: Australian beaches, clear oceans, golden sun, and the tan-skinned, orange-bikini clad Blake Lively. Flavio captures all of this on lush digital, in what is one of the finest uses of the medium since Newton Thomas Sigel’s work in 2011’s DRIVE.
Collet-Serra’s claim that this is a survival thriller and not a creature feature may hold up, but the film is surely packed with plenty of exploitation moments; from the camera’s constant leering of Blake Lively (the wetsuit-changing sequence, the underwater paddling), to the gory-even-for-PG-13-standards scene where she uses earrings and a necklace to suture a large gash on her thigh.
And honestly, Collet-Serra and writer Anthony Jaswinski must’ve had the revenge genre somewhere in their minds in the final showdown, where victim-turns-aggressor when Lively weaponizes a flare gun against the attacking monster. This last battle culminates in a satisfyingly gruesome, albeit slightly Wile E. Coyote cartoonish demise.
Blake Lively aside, THE SHALLOWS is excellent, and recognizably so, as a box office success (a worldwide gross of $119 million on a budget of only $17 million) and a Rotten Tomatoes critics score of 78%. Although, the audience score drops all the way to 60%. This is strange to me. The horror genre seems polarized between what the critics like and what audiences seem to appreciate. For instance, IT FOLLOWS, my favorite film of 2015, has a soaring critics score of 97% but an audience score of only 65%. What gives? But let’s stay focused.
THE SHALLOWS is beautifully shot, it’s tense, and most importantly, it features some of the most seamless computer generated visual effects in not only horror films, but any film. And rightfully so, it took 14 visual effects houses to meet the fast turnaround time the production demanded. The spotlight shines brightest on Important Looking Pirates, a Stockholm effects studio that specializes in their shark animations. Their work on THE SHALLOWS is worth checking out.
THE SHALLOWS has made it’s way onto almost every internet top-10 horror list for 2016. If you’ve heard lackluster reviews from friends or friends of friends as I did, do yourself a favor and don’t listen to them. Seek out the film. For me, it was noon on a Wednesday, with the day off from my job as a shoe store manager, with sunlight pouring in through the shutters, prowling through the On Demand free movie section while waiting for a package to be delivered by UPS, only to see that movie title I kept seeing online. I hit play, and a rare thing happened with not only PG-13 ratings, but with horror films in general: I was not disappointed.
Let’s hope this isn’t the first and last addition to the Blakesploitation genre.