PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

'The Shallows' Takes Anthropomorphising Deeper

The camera hovers over the ocean's surface or dips below, forcing you, too, to scan apprehensively through the blue-green waters for this relentless stalker.


The Shallows

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen, Sedona Legge
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Sony Pictures
Year: 2016
US date: 2016-06-24 (General release)
UK date: 2016-08-12 (General release)
Website
Trailer

We're used to seeing anthropomorphism in the forms of smiling monkeys and adorable Labrador pups trying to sell us Cool Ranch Doritos. But animal predator movies take this idea in the opposite direction, offering monsters as unstoppable, sadistic villains, every bit as malicious and unrelenting as Michael Myers.

Of course, the film that got this particular ball rolling was Jaws. Called a “perfect eating machine” by marine biologist Hooper (memorably played by Richard Dreyfus), the shark is also more than that. Apparently determined to crush the puny humans who are hunting it, the shark undertakes a kind of cat-and-mouse game in the high seas, finally launching itself on their puny boat in order to chomp the grizzled fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) in half. Sequels to the original offer teenagers as victims, so the sharks look less like less thoughtless eating machines than scheming serial killers.

One of these shows up in The Shallows, opening this weekend. Here Blake Lively plays Nancy, who's recently lost her mother to cancer and dropped out of med school. She travels to a secret Mexican surfing beach in honor of her mother, who visited when she was first pregnant. Here Nancy meets a pair of natives, who find the gringa on a surfboard pretty amusing even as they spend the day with her.

Just when she's about to take one last run at the end of a great day, Nancy is attacked by a massive great white shark. Her leg gashed, she takes refuge on a small set of rocks only visible when the tide is out. She holes up there for the night and tries to figure out a way to get back safely to shore, some 200 yards away, with the shark swimming circles around her.

As she waits and worries, the shark builds cursory and sometimes graphic tension by devouring the other two surfers, along with most of a blue whale carcass. It also takes after a swarthy drunk who steals Nancy’s phone and money from her beached backpack, tearing him to bits when the guy gets too greedy and tries to make off with her floating surfboard, too. Despite the fact that real life sharks eat infrequently at best, and generally with a minimum of effort, this monster shark decides it has it in for our comely female protagonist. And so it repeatedly chases her down at every opportunity rather than swims off to find something easier to eat.

We might at least admire that director Jaume Collet-Serra, a veteran of Liam Neeson action throwaways such as Non-Stop and Unknown, takes some care with the proceedings. Like Steven Spielberg, he keeps the shark mostly under wraps during The Shallows' opening act, showing it only via a smartly realized snippet delivered by a GoPro attached to the washed-ashore helmet of a previous victim.

But because the waters of this Mexican paradise are crystal clear, hiding the shark isn't always easy to pull off. So Collet-Serra favors swooping, aerial shots of the water, placing the characters on the edge of the frame against a large swath of open ocean. At the same time, he's able to mine a good, anxious buzz from all we don’t see in any given frame. The camera often hovers just over the surface of the water, dipping down under wave swells, which forces you to scan apprehensively through the blue-green, trying to make out any sort of threatening shadows.

The thing is, the more the shark ceases to act like an actual wild animal in favor of like a bitterly obsessive stalker, the less frightening it becomes. Once the creature turns predictable, the rest of the film falls ever too neatly in place. In fact, Nancy herself, despite her terrifying predicament, doesn’t seem too overly concerned. Tangling with the massive shark deep in the water, supposedly fighting for her life against a super-predator, she seems much less frightened than pissed off about the whole situation. It’s as if she’s watched too many of these animal predator films before, and knows more or less how it’s going to turn out at the end.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.