Starring Blake Lively. Rated 14A.
As a horror director, Jaume Collet-Serra has had his ups and downs. He impressed with his feverishly twisted 2005 debut House of Wax, then lost all credibility with the godawful Orphan four years later.
It seems like the third time is the charm, though, as Collet-Serra totally redeems himself with the Australia-shot psycho-shark flick The Shallows. Blake Lively's bravura performance doesn't hurt either.
Lively stars as Texas med-school dropout Nancy Adams, who we first meet while she's being driven to a secluded Mexican beach by a friendly local who chides her for being glued to her phone and missing the world around her. She wants to visit the surfing spot because it's where her beloved mother went before cancer claimed her.
After some energizing footage of Nancy and two Mexican surfer dudes riding the turquoise waves, a great white shark shows up to spoil the party, drawn by the nearby carcass of a whale. In the first of many harrowing action scenes, Nancy gets bit on the leg and takes refuge on the reeking island of blubber. The rest of the film depicts her anguished struggle to survive, which sees her drawing on the inner strength her mom showed facing down The Big C.
Collet-Serra does a masterful job wringing tension from the trapped woman's efforts to attract the attention of any potential rescuer. The sequence where she desperately tries to signal a far-off ship before it sails out of sight is particularly gripping.
Lively's obvious commitment to the role results in a heroine that is by turns vulnerable and tough as nails, and always worth rooting for. Things go beyond ridiculous when it comes to the shark's vindictive mindset, but they got that way in Jaws too, you may recall, and nobody whined about it much.