MacGyver wearing a bikini

Blake Lively going toe-to-toe with a great white might sound more like the next installment of the “Sharknado” franchise than a surprise summer smash. But “The Shallows” manages to defy the expectations and provide the best shark movie since Steven Spielberg scared people out of the water with 1975’s “Jaws.”

The concept is simple. Lively plays Nancy, a woman looking for alone time surfing on a remote Mexican beach. She is attacked before nightfall by a great white shark. Against all odds, she is able to maneuver herself onto a small rock several hundred yards from shore with the shark lurking in the shallow water.

Executing this unlikely hit in a compelling manner is a credit to director Jaume Collet-Serra and Lively as leading lady, because Anthony Jaswinski’s script is lackluster.

Lively delivers a homerun performance in a film undeserving of one. The part seemed intended to go to an attractive bombshell who could memorize lines. However, Lively’s ability to manufacture credible emotion and character development from subpar material is exceptional. She fixes all of the many reasons the film shouldn’t work with an all-or-nothing performance.

In the script, Nancy makes miracles happen out of sheer willpower and hokey convenience as it’s clear Jaswinski was watching countless episodes of “MacGyver” reruns while penning his screenplay. Though she doesn’t have chewing gum and a paper clip, Nancy is able to avoid certain death numerous times and Lively makes all of this plausible.

The co-stars in the movie are a computer generated shark and a real seagull Nancy dubs “Steven Seagull” that is unable to fly away due to an injured wing.

One of the disappointments of the film comes in the shark itself. Whether by design or limited budget, “The Shallows” rarely features its ominous, underwater villain and most of the shark attacks occur off camera.

When viewers get to see the shark, the effect terrifies moviegoers. Unfortunately, Collet-Serra plays it safe by taking the camera underwater to signal an impending attack and then pulling away seconds before it happens, leaving viewers with the aftermath.

Aside from this flaw, “The Shallows” is a gorgeous film shot in New South Wales, Australia, which doubles for a picturesque remote beach on the coast of Mexico.

The views cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano is able to find and develop help to round out the film and give moviegoers something to be in awe of during the film’s frequent slow moments. Collet-Serra flawlessly transitions above and below water.

The film’s pacing progresses like ocean waves, building to high peaks and then dropping viewers down to a monotonous, boring valley where nothing happens until the next wave arrives.

In this way, “The Shallows” establishes itself in a tier below superior survival movies like “Gravity,” “All is Lost” or “The Martian,” whose slower moments are as compelling as the intense action sequences.

For viewers who know what they’re getting into, “The Shallows” is summer popcorn fodder in the same vein as last year’s surprise hit “San Andreas,” right down to the absurd events in the final 15 minutes of the movie.

With Lively driving the action in picturesque locales, “The Shallows” is worth a shot in theaters for moviegoers willing to turn off their brains for an hour or so and enjoy the ride.

 

Continue the conversation online at cinematicconsiderations.com.

 

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