From Blake Lively’s Spanish for Surfers (forthcoming):
La recepción del teléfono es excelente en esta playa. – The telephone reception is excellent on this beach.
¡Que hermoso día! Sin duda, nada lo hará posiblemente puede salir mal. – What a lovely day! Surely nothing can possibly go wrong.
Espera, ¿qué es que en el mar preocuparse cerca de mí? – Wait, what is that in the sea worryingly close to me?
Me gustaría saber la palabra española para “shark”. – I wish I knew the Spanish word for shark.
¡Ay! – Ouch!
Por casualidad, yo soy un estudiante de medicina y por lo tanto no es completamente irracional para mí para aplicar puntos de sutura improvisados a mi herida por mordedura sangrienta. – Fortuitously, I am a medical student and so it is not completely unreasonable for me to apply improvised stitches to my gory bite wound.
Al menos las gaviotas son amables. – At least the seagulls are friendly.
(And so on.)
As I think I have mentioned, as a general rule I tend to stay clear of modern comedies and horror movies, mainly because neither of them really do it for me consistently. Still, the pickings are so slim at the moment that sometimes you have to waive a principle, and so I found myself going along to see Blake Lively in Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows – though, just to be on the safe side, I ensured things would not be too hairy by going in the company of a colonel from the Special Forces of a major Gulf nation. He had nachos.
Blake Lively is one of those actresses who doesn’t appear to feel the need to be popping up in films all over the place, but who is generally worth watching when she does (I say this mainly based on my experience of watching her in The Age of Adaline, if we’re honest). In The Shallows, she plays Nancy, a surf-loving medical student who as the film starts is on her way to a secluded Mexican beach to indulge her favourite pastime. The audience’s suspicions are perhaps piqued when her guide, despite repeated questions, refuses to tell her the name of the beach, which is mostly likely The Bloody Beach of Toothy Death.
That said, the Bloody Beach of Toothy Death is very pleasant when she arrives on it and for a while the film looks like a commercial for shampoo and sunscreen, with some of the usual whistles and bells modern films tend to use to depict thoroughly-well-connected modern people sending texts and having video-phone calls. In the end, though, Lively hops on her board and heads off into the surf.
All is well at first, but then she happens upon the half-eaten carcass of a whale, and the large and bad-tempered shark responsible. The shark decides it would rather not eat the other half of the shark, on the grounds that Lively is a more appetising prospect (hmm, well), and has a go at eating her instead. Cue scenes of Lively being dragged underwater in a cloud of her own blood and the Colonel dropping his nachos everywhere.
Well, anyway, Lively manages to evade the hungry shark and clambers onto a worryingly small rock just above the level of the water, where she is alone except for a friendly seagull. Her predicament is an original one: she is only a couple of hundred metres from the beach (close enough to see her own bag on the sand), in fairly shallow water, but she has no chance of making it all the way to the breakers without getting chomped. What’s a girl to do?
The Shallows is one of those movies which is, let’s be honest about it, highly derivative to the point of arguably being some sort of exploitation fodder (there is rather a lot of Lively looking very photogenic in her bikini, even while theoretically suffering from the early stages of gangrene). Even based on the capsule description I just presented, you can probably start off the list yourself: most obviously Jaws, then moving on to include Open Water, any number of blonde-in-peril horror films, and even arguably touching on the likes of Gravity. The thing is that it blends together influences from so many different sources so seamlessly that it doesn’t just feel like it’s cashing in on any one of them in particular. It has its own sort of identity, even if it’s not an especially distinctive one.
The presence of Lively, as opposed to a generic scream queen in training, does lift the film a bit as she gives a very good performance, pretty much carrying most of the film single-handed – for much of the running time her only co-stars are a seagull and the shark, neither of whom can emote as well as her – and doing a fine job of it. Part of me wonders if the decision to go more mainstream with this film may not actually hurt its chances – it’s rather less of a horror film than I expected and more of a thriller, with commensurately lower levels of gore and grue.
Still, the scene with the improvised sutures was enough to set the Colonel chortling to himself and proferring nachos in my direction, and there is surely enough grisliness to satisfy anyone who isn’t a pathological gorehound. The film works hard to keep up a good pace and a sense of plausibility, even if this means it’s quite a long time before the shark turns up – lots of scenes filling in Lively’s not-exactly-essential backstory and family situation ensue – and the film itself having a comparatively bite-sized 86-minute running time. In the end, though, it works quite well – only in the very closing stages do things start to get even remotely silly. (I’m still not completely convinced about the manner in which the plot is ultimately resolved.)
The film works best when it’s about Lively and the shark, anyway. You can see what they’re trying to do by incorporating Lively’s various personal issues into the storyline – as mentioned, they’re trying to do what Gravity did, where Sandy Bullock’s physical predicament was kind of a metaphor for her emotional situation, something which worked so perfectly it elevated the film to an even higher level. Unfortunately, Lively’s personal problems aren’t so well defined, and being stuck on rock or a buoy being chased by a shark isn’t a natural realisation of them, metaphorically. As a result, they just make the film feel a bit over-egged and even a touch pretentious (given this is basically a girl-in-swimsuit-has-fight-with-hungry-fish movie).
Nevertheless, both the Colonel and I emerged feeling we had not wasted 86 minutes of our lives (plus about 20 minutes of trailers and commercials) and that this was basically a pretty good film. It’s probably not horrific enough for some people, and perhaps a bit too horrific for others, but for everyone else in between it is a very decent thriller, inventively directed, solidly written, and with an impressively capable central performance. You’re never really in doubt about what’s going to happen next, but the film plays with your expectations inventively enough to make it a fun watch for most of its duration.