Film: “The Shallows”; Director: Jaume Collette-Serra; Cast: Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada; Rating: ***1/2
The raves that you’ve been reading for this small summer hit are not all well-earned. True to its title, “The Shallows” makes a fairly shallow lunge at thrills. It lacks the profound tragic resonances of other survival dramas such as Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours”, where a man had his hand stuck in a rock during a lonely mountaineering expedition.
The very attractive Blake Lively plays a bikini-clad female avatar of James Franco’s character in Boyle’s masterpiece “127 Hours”. The bikini, of course, is incidental in “The Shallows”. Although the entire film is situated on the deceptively tranquil azure stretches of water, this is the other side of the “Baywatch” culture where the sea and the beach are pretexts for bikini parades.
To his credit, Spanish director Jaume Collette-Sara avoids overdoing the gore quotient. Steven Spielberg’s 1975 trendsetting sea-borne thriller “Jaws”, the mother of all waterborne survival dramas, began with a woman’s leg being bitten off. It shocked audiences, yes. But it also set the pace for all survival dramas during the last 30 years where the matter of escaping near-death has always been measured against the volume of violence that can be put on screen without revolting the audiences’ sensibilities.
“The Shallows” keeps the gore at a low ebb and yet the thrills are at an incredibly high altitude. Indeed, this is a stunningly beautiful film with the oceans looking inviting enough to risk a shark bite.
Blake Lively plays Nancy Adams an obstinate lonely surfer who heads into the waters on her own even after her dad’s warning.
Lesson for all modern strong-willed girls: good girls don’t disobey dads specially when it comes to heading into danger in a bikini.
Lively gives her character a sense of feisty terror. The minute she is stranded on a rock just yards away from the shore to avoid a shark attack, she takes charge of her character’s growing panic, not allowing the sense of dread to spill into hysteria. It’s a measured but credible performance — athletic, emotional, gutsy and aesthetic.
Lively is heroic without seeming like a superwoman. She is brave yet vulnerable. Placed in a more socially relevant film, the character would be considered immensely empowered. Here, she fights no cause except her own basic survival and still seems splendidly heroic.
The same goes for the film. The taut narrative stays afloat without resorting to scary gimmicks or simulated terror. The cinematography, by Falvio Martinez Labiano, is the life and breath of the brief and gripping drama. The visuals are a rich, but tempered tapestry of blue, blue and more blue, and then some red, for dread.
So there we have it. A cleverly constructed survival thriller with no room for humbug. Most of the time it’s just our heroic heroine and an injured seagull stranded on a rock that serves as a haven against the horror in the waters.
This is “Life Of Pi” with Pi in bikini and the tiger transforming into a bird.
Incidentally, Nancy repairs the bird’s injured wing by fixing it like a dislocated human shoulder. We see Robinson Crusoe doing the same in this week’s other non-Indian release. Manifestly, marooned endangered heroes seeking solace in friends with dislocated wings is the flavour of the season.