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The Shallows (2016)

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Let Me Surf, Godammit!

The story of a bizarre love triangle between Steven, a male seagull, a female shark and the blonde bimbo who flies all the way from Texas to make a mess of their otherwise platonic relationship, The Shallows doesn’t escape all the traps laid out by its problematic title: none of the three characters has much depth. Fortunately, the surf bimbo is played by Blake Lively, who has enough warm and empathy to embark the viewer in her quest for survival when she realises that interfering with Mother Nature is indeed a bad idea, even driven by the best of intentions, here paying hommage to Mother, period. Her Mom had a dream beach in Mexico (here played by Queensland) but she died, so Nancy is perpetuating her legacy, even if it means dropping out of medical school on her very last year. She’s driven to said beach by a sympathetic local, Carlos, who twice eludes her question about the name of the place. One has suspicion it is Tiburon Playa, as “tiburon”is Spanish for shark. Why it has to be kept a secret among the locals is beyond one, and the writer, but it makes Carlos a harbinger of doom.

Starting with found footage that at least has the dual elegance of not being grainy VHS and being explained by live action later in the movie, The Shallows has maybe its best scene in the jeep driving Nancy to the beach, with the inability of a white US citizen to communicate even in the simplest way with the latinos who have been part of the nation for quite some time.There would be a point to be made that Nancy relates more easily to Steven the Seagull and to the shark that she does with Carlos and the local surf buddies she quickly joins in some satisfying aquatic exploits. The beach has “incredible tubes” when the tide is up. Blake Lively is credible in her surf scenes (she’s after all a Californian, not a Texan), but for some reason she opts for riding one more of these tubes when the sun is very low on the horizon, in spite of what she professed five minutes before. That, and her blind reliance on finding a Uber from a deserted Mexican beach, makes her quite air-headed, but since she’s a pleasant and focussed actress we follow her on her predicament, suspending all disbelief.

See, Steven is nursing his wounded wing on a small rock near the beach and the female white shark whose object of affection he is will have none of this nonsense about bipeds ridind surf boards to hit on him. Sensing that the blonde is a stronger rival than the couple of male locals, she attacks and hurts her. Nancy is saved by a beached whale painfully dying from her wounds (apparently, it came to say hi to Steven and was the previous victim of Sharkette’s jealous wrath). But wait, the whale is not dead yet and swims away, leaving Nancy with only one possible shelter: Steven’s rock. That proves a terrible mistake as now it gets personal and Sharkette will do anything to prevent the blonde alien to steal her beloved’s heart.

At that point one feels compelled to remind the reader that sharks are essential to the ocean eco-system and are far from the demonic creature Hollywood has complacently made of them since Jaws. Sharks are not much worse than dolphins, in the cold light of science: they are just much less cute and never went to see an orthodontist. That’s the reason why one was tempted to root for Sharkette during the rest of the movie, as she proves both determined and rather smart. Nancy, on the other hand, is very resourceful and use a variety of factors, like her earrings, jellyfishes or a buoy to get out her predicament alive. Girlfriend only wanna have fun surfing, not being mauled by the underwater equivalent of Glen Close in Fatal Attraction!

The Shallows is short and compelling. Only Mexicans die. CGI Sharkette is good, especially when she’s first glimpsed, or when she furiously chews on the buoy’s metal structure. Blake Lively is as solar as one remembered her from The Savages, and her Instagram is rather hilarious. You could definitely waste 86 minutes in a much worse fashion than watching her fight for her life. Steven Seagull steals the show, though.

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