The Shallows (2016)
One of the scariest movies ever produced, Jaws (1975) made sharks one of the most feared creatures on earth. Its director Steven Spielberg was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock, the master of terror himself, who understood that what is not seen can be far more terrifying than what is obvious. Like many shark thrillers, The Shallows (2016) continues the tradition of demonising sharks and goes one step further by adding a favourite sub-genre for the male gaze: the bikinied woman in danger. Lest anyone suggest there is misogyny or voyeurism in keeping a woman exposed to a marauding shark for almost an entire film, the story is marketed as a feminist triumph of survival.
It is a one-woman show with a simple plotline that spans two days. Medical student Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) travels alone to a tranquil but isolated beach looking for solace while she considers giving up medicine. The photography beautifully captures the tranquillity, the rolling waves, the glistening skin, and the menacing shadow of something big just beneath the surface. She catches a few waves, meets a couple of regular board riders who eventually go home, and she is then stalked aggressively by a massive great white shark. Thanks to med school, she is able to use a fish hook and earring wire to surgically stitch up a gaping thigh wound that was the shark’s entre, all while bonding with a lonely seagull in her existential struggle for survival. With no help possible, she must out-manoeuvre the beast or be served up for dinner only a hundred metres from the beach.
Digital effects have revolutionised movies and when done well they make the impossible seem real. But when not done well, it is hard to take a movie seriously. This great white shark resembles a blow-up toy and its repeated munching on the steel buoy defies even animal logic. The predictability of the story is forgivable; after all, you do not see a movie like this without sensing how it will end, but the repetitiveness of the attacks is wearying. Back to misogyny and voyeurism: when you take away the thin plotline and mediocre digital effects there is little left other than an attractive woman in a bikini swimming for her life. The real hero of the film, however, is the triumphant designer of Nancy’s bikini: no matter how much mauling she endures, the bikini stays in place. The title of the film describes its content perfectly.
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Star: Blake Lively