[Screen It]


(2016) (Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada) (PG-13)

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Suspense: A young woman must contend with being stranded just off shore following a shark attack.
Nancy Adams (BLAKE LIVELY) is a young woman who's contemplating her future, particularly whether to finish her studies in medical school. Accordingly, she's taken a respite by heading to her late mother's favorite surfing beach in a remote part of Mexico, leaving her younger sister, Chloe (SEDONA LEGGE) and their father (BRETT CULLEN) back in Galveston. Driven to the beach by friendly local Carlos (OSCAR JAENADA), Nancy spots two other surfers riding the waves, but pretty much keeps to herself.

When they head in and she goes back out for one last ride, things take a turn for the worse. Happening upon a whale carcass, she gets an uneasy feeling and decides to head back. But a huge shark knocks her from her board and then attacks her again, with her then scrambling to the small safety of a rocky outcrop in the water some two hundred yards off the shore. Alone and suffering from deep lacerations on her leg, she must figure out what to do, especially with the shark still nearby and high tide eventually coming, meaning her rock will eventually be covered and she'll have to make a risky swim to a nearby buoy.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
On June 20, 1975, moviegoers witnessed something that would forever change how they thought about going to the beach. While Peter Benchley's novel about a great white shark terrorizing the coastal beach town of Amity Island was a national sensation the year before, it wasn't until director Steven Spielberg brought the tale to the big screen that people really freaked out. If you weren't alive back then, people literally were afraid to venture out into the ocean, meaning the film ended up at the top of the list of movies that altered how people behaved after seeing it. "Psycho" might have made people nervous to take a shower, but "Jaws" prevented many from venturing into the surf for years afterward.

Since then, plenty of films have attempted to capture that same sort of cinematic terror again, featuring both sharks and other critters. Beyond Spielberg's own "Jurassic Park" and its T-Rex attack on the kids in the jeep sequence, however, all have failed in that quest (although "Open Water" was a worthy entry and, to set the record straight, not too many people ended up worried about T-Rexes after seeing "JP"). Undeterred, and especially since shark attacks still make the international news, we occasionally get a new incarnation of that sort of tale.

This week that arrives in the form of "The Shallows," a thriller that's part "Jaws" and part "The Raft" sequence from "Creepshow 2." Like that latter short that featured characters stuck on a platform in the middle of a lake where they could see the shore but didn't dare try to swim there due to something in the water between them and there, this one features Blake Lively as a surfer who ends up surviving an initial shark attack, only to end up on a rocky outcrop and then nearby buoy where she can see the safety of shore but just can't get there without being eaten.

There have been plenty of good films about people being stuck in bad situations alone -- "Cast Away," "The Martian," "All is Lost" -- where the fun, if you will, is in watching them react to the situation, try to come up with a game plan to survive, and then deal with complications, setbacks and such. And in terms of "don't get eaten" movies, "Jaws" obviously stands head and shoulders above the rest. But that's not just due to the shark, but also the three main characters involved and the emotional depth that Spielberg and company enveloped them in when not worrying about needing a bigger boat.

Here, director Jaume Collet-Serra and screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski barely scratch the surface in regards to either of those fronts. There's a tiny bit of a back-story about the protagonist's mother losing her battle with cancer in the recent past and thus the young woman questioning her life and particularly whether she should continue her med school studies. But that's it, and with really only a seagull to talk to (when not chatting with herself, including dropping some clumsily handled explanations in terms of what should otherwise have been handled by the direction and storytelling), Blake Lively is pretty much on her own to carry the show.

She's certainly up to the task from a physical standpoint (both surfing and then being thrashed about and repeatedly put in danger, not to mention sporting a barely there bikini), but we're never given enough reason to care about her and the outcome outside of a simple primal reaction. And with far less to work with than Hanks, Damon or Redford in the aforementioned "you're on your own" movies, there's not much she can do (which is likely the reason for the short 85-minute runtime, including the credits). A few jump scenes stand in for true suspense, with nothing here coming close to eliciting the response that even just John Williams' signature "Jaws" score managed by itself.

Then there's the fact that any surfer would realize paddling up close to a whale carcass isn't the wisest move, while it doesn't seem likely a shark coming across that would spend any time chasing the lithe Lively. As a result, the shark is portrayed as being vindictive or, at a minimum, just irritated and pissed off (it's pointed out it has a large fishing hook stuck near its mouth) and thus won't let the surfer be. Yes, human villains will behave that way, and while "Jaws" sort of got away with having Bruce the shark seeming to have it in for Quint, Brody, and Hooper, it just seems exploitative and increasingly ridiculous here. As does the conclusion that seems highly unlikely, what with its spur of the moment solution not handled well enough by the filmmakers to fully engage the viewer.

While "Jaws" might have made viewers wonder what might be in the water around them if brave enough to go in, "The Shallows" will likely only have viewers wondering why they're watching this rather than that classic again. It rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 22, 2016 / Posted June 24, 2016

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