The Shallows is the shark movie none of us thought we wanted. “Blake Lively vs. a shark for an hour and a half?! How silly!” we all exclaimed over the past few months. Turns out we were all wrong. The Shallows is the best shark movie since Jaws. It’s the shark movie we have all been waiting for, the shark movie that actually knows how stupid it is and wholeheartedly embraces it—that’s meant as the utmost compliment.
Blake Lively stars as Nancy, a plucky med school dropout vacationing in Mexico. She’s on the hunt for the secluded beach where her recently deceased mother conceived her. With the help of a charming driver (Oscar Jaenada), she finds said beach within the first few minutes of the movie, and we then get to know her a little better. She’s fun and funny as she makes small talk with the driver, cracking jokes and smiling coyly as she attempts to communicate with him in Spanish. She’s also alone after being deserted by her BFF, who is too hungover to join. Once they arrive at the beach, Nancy says goodbye to her driver and immediately hits the water to surf, which is when the real fun begins.
Roughly 20 minutes into the movie, a great white shark bites Nancy. In a moment of panic, she swims over to a dead blue whale carcass (seriously) and climbs on top, only to realize the shark that attacked her is still circling. Badly injured, she then makes her way to a nearby rock that serves as the major location for the rest of the movie. People show up as potential help, but you can imagine how that goes (not well), leaving Nancy stranded on the rock alongside an injured seagull that she names Steven (the film’s true star). You read that correctly: Blake Lively stars alongside Steven Seagull for most of the movie.
I don’t want to give away much more, because one of the highlights of The Shallows is its sheer audacity. This movie knows it is absurd, and, boy, does it go for broke. The shark in this film does not kill for food; it kills for sport. It is vengeful, it is cruel, and it is resourceful, giving our heroine quite the run for her money. It also defies the laws of physics, flying through the air and basically popping up at any moment, leaving the audience in a constant state of anxiety. The film culminates in a battle that is so ridiculous that it had everyone in the theater cheering—high praise for a movie about a woman and a seagull trying to outwit a shark.
The Shallows is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the man who also helmed the equally outrageous Orphan. You know, the one where Vera Farmiga stars as a mother who adopts a Russian girl only to discover the girl is actually a murderous woman in her 30s with a disease that makes her look young. Both films are totally bonkers, but their major strength is that they are aware they are totally bonkers. The Shallows is B-movie schlock at its finest, a simple story peppered with humor and brutal violence. Though rated PG-13 and without much actual gore, the movie is still very, very intense. The shark is without a doubt the scariest one we’ve seen in movies since Jaws. You’d never know it’s CGI—this sucker looks real.
I am a shark movie aficionado. As a kid, I wore out my family’s VHS copy of Jaws. I still vividly remember seeing Deep Blue Sea three times in the theater and was first in line when Open Water came out in 2003. That said, I’m a harsh critic when it comes to the genre and am routinely disappointed, so I cannot praise The Shallows enough. The bare bones story is told with thrilling panache: Girl meets shark. Shark tries to eat girl. Girl thwarts shark. Shark gets pissed. Both girl and shark and give great performances in a rivalry that’s just so darn fun to watch. Batman vs. Superman? Who cares. Captain America vs. Iron Man? Boring. Blake Lively vs. a shark? Sign me up! The Shallows is the cinematic showdown of the year, and nobody saw it coming. I dare you to see this movie and not have a good time.
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Writer: Anthony Jaswinski
Starring: Blake Lively, a seagull, a shark
Release Date: June 24, 2016
Andy Herren is an adjunct professor and occasional reality show winner. When he’s not lying to people on national television, he contributes to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter. Olive Penderghast is his soulmate.