A stranded surfer and a massive shark — that’s about all there is in Jaume Collet-Serra’s latest thriller, “The Shallows.” It’s a cinematic challenge, almost a dare, in which the director must entertain an audience for 90 minutes using only the barest essentials. Can Collet-Serra, whose 2014 espionage thriller “Non-Stop” took place almost entirely within a passenger jet, pull off another high-pressure filmmaking stunt?
His lead cast comprises only one actress, Blake Lively, a classic California blonde who semi-convincingly plays a native Texan, Nancy Adams. According to cellphone photos and a video chat with the family (Brett Cullen plays her dad, Sedona Legge her little sister), Nancy is a med school dropout who’s gone to Mexico to find one of those secret, unnamed surf spots. All Nancy knows is that this particular beach had special meaning to her mother, who recently died of cancer. “She was a fighter,” says Dad, who fears his daughter is slipping away, too.
Yeah, yeah — where’s the shark? He waits in the wings for a while, then reveals himself slowly, much like his famous ancestor in “Jaws.” He chomps Nancy’s board and slices her leg, then corners her on a little rock just 200 yards from shore. Although there’s plenty of whale and dolphin around for him to eat, this shark wants that girl.
What happens next is mostly a waiting game, for Nancy and for us. Nancy sutures her leg using two earrings (!) and plans her survival strategy out loud, but her options are limited. Anthony Jaswinski’s barely there script throws in few complications and no plot twists at all. The shark almost has a personality — we suspect he’s intelligent, and the hook in his cheek suggests a vengeful attitude — but he never dredges up any deeper fears or emotions within us. And here’s a question: Why doesn’t this gargantuan creature just lunge onto that rock and grab her?
“The Shallows” deserves credit for trying to squeeze maximum thrills out of a minimalist setup, but it doesn’t really succeed. In the end, Collet-Serra may have bit off more — or is it less? — than he can chew.