Clashing Teeth: A Review of The Shallows

Clashing Teeth: A Review of The Shallows

med_shallowsBy Anya Sczerzenie

When someone thinks of sharks and movies, they probably think of Jaws– the classic summer blockbuster from 1975 that shocked audiences and villainized sharks in the minds of so many moviegoers. The premise of The Shallows, a new movie directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, is very similar- a huge, monstrous shark bent on eating anyone who enters its waters. So of course, viewers may have expected a very similar movie. But The Shallows blew all those expectations out of the water.

Instead of the shark in Jaws who terrorized the beaches of an entire island, the shark in The Shallows is confined to a small stretch of shallow ocean- hence the movie’s name. The surfer protagonist, Nancy, played by 29-year-old actress Blake Lively, must survive on a rock ledge in a small area of ocean, where even the shortest swim from one rock to another could mean death at the shark’s teeth. This approach to the setting of the movie brings viewers up close and personal with both the protagonist and the shark antagonist. Instead of lurking in the waters in the background, the shark in The Shallows swims right beside the audience, always close by. It makes for a tense, gripping, and scary movie that fills viewers with dread before the shark even arrives on screen. When it does, viewers realize that The Shallows is not for the faint of heart. The blood and gore in The Shallows are both plentiful and realistic. The frightening moments in this movie can range from jump-scares to slow, intense build-ups without the characteristic “shark” music of Jaws. From start to finish, this movie was definitely given its PG-13 rating for a reason.

Aside from the fear factor, one of the most unique aspects of this movie is that most of the time, Nancy is alone. Instead of the conflicts caused by an entire town trying to rid their waters of a shark like in Jaws, most of the conflicts of The Shallows are Nancy’s internal conflicts as she tries to survive, both for herself and her family. Every choice and calculation she makes, she makes by herself. As Nancy is the only character for much of the movie, viewers are caught up in her personal struggle– just like in the 2013 movie Gravity, where the lone main character struggles to survive in space. It’s an interesting dynamic that makes the movie far more intimate and far more frightening.

The remote location of the Mexican beach where the movie is set, and the way the shark is viewed also provides another conflict: Nancy versus the shark turns into human versus nature. In Jaws, the shark enters the domain of humans, eating them for seemingly no reason at all– while in The Shallows, the human enters the domain of the shark. Therefore, unlike the shark in Jaws, the shark in The Shallows isn’t necessarily viewed as a monster, but a natural predator hunting in its homeland. The Shallows is not a “monster” movie, it’s a man-versus-wild thriller that shows just what can happen when a human trespasses into the hunting grounds of a massive, aggressive shark.