Film Review: The Shallows

by Sam Robinson

Rated M. Starring Blake Lively. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.

After the somewhat bewildering success of SharkNado (there are four movies already), another shark flick lands in cinemas – The Shallows. Less B-grade schlock and more Jaws, this is a survival thriller where Blake Lively spends most of the runtime on a rock with a seagull.

The plot is very simple. Nancy Adams (Lively) heads to a secret beach in Mexico to surf, shortly after losing her mother. The beach holds a special place for Nancy, as its waves are where her mother learned to surf. Nancy meets two other surfers, and they happily ride waves to a soundtrack that resembles something you’d find on a Skitz Mix compilation. Nancy surfs on as the others leave, but is soon attacked by a shark, which bites into her leg, leaving her vulnerable and immobile on a rock, with the tide slowly rising.

The Shallows has all the hallmarks of a classic survival film. Nancy has to use her wits to suture up her leg (in a scene not for the squeamish), she’s left stranded with a wounded seagull which she names Steven (hello, Cast Away), and you’re genuinely unsure how she is going to get back to shore past the persistent, and angry, shark, as more and more opportunities for rescue disappear.

This isn’t a masterpiece, but for a thriller, it’s well-constructed and structured. This is not a horror film, but there is fear generated – in the circling predator, and also in Nancy’s immobility, and her isolation. The beach is nowhere near civilisation – it was actually filmed on Australia’s gorgeous Lord Howe Island – and so you know a chopper or boat rescue is highly unlikely. It’s piecing together how Nancy will escape her rock refuge that keeps momentum and viewer interest. And unlike big brother Jaws, The Shallows uses a lot of silence in building suspense – there’s plenty of jumps and scares to be experienced.

As Nancy lies on her rock island, stranded and helpless, with the tide rising, it reminded me of the great old hymn, Rock of Ages:  

‘Rock of ages cleft for me. Hide me now, my refuge be.’

Nancy shelters herself inside a rock, in the middle of the water. It’s her safe place – the one place the shark can’t go. Throughout the Bible, God is described as a rock, a refuge, such as in Psalm 16:2 –

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Rock of Ages is specifically talking about the refuge of Christ. He is a protector, redeemer, and defender – and he saves those who trust in him from not only God’s wrath, but also sin. Spiritually, we are just like Nancy, helpless, damaged and alone, but by trusting in Christ, he is with us, defending us and protecting us. In a world that is becoming more and more dark and uncertain, I think it’s a really powerful image to hold on to. And remembering the words of Paul – who himself experienced shipwreck and days in the open sea (2 Cor 11:25) – nothing ‘will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom 8:38-39).

The Verdict: The Shallows isn’t the greatest thriller on offer, but it will spook you enough to keep you out of the water for a while. 3.5/5

The Shallows releases in Australian cinemas later this week. It is already screening in the USA and UK.

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