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It’s the best screen drama of the week but it overcomes a lot to get there. Like its rock-clinging heroine (Blake Lively), stuck out at sea while menaced by killer marine life, The Shallowsis at bay from brutal predators: in this case its own implausibilities or sleights of storytelling. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Run All Night) and writer Anthony Jaswinski have only themselves to blame.
The young woman mourning her late mum comes to an isolated Mexican cove to surf, careless alike, it seems, of stranger danger or murderous sea forms. Neither she nor we spot the big floating whale carcass out in the bay, attracting birds and worse — because in the introductory long shots it isn’t there. And how come no one sees or hears our protagonist the first time she waves and shouts for help? The bay is not that large and the beach not empty.
Never mind. Three idiocy-strikes are allowed in a movie before a shout of “out”. And this movie soon gets better. Gulp your doubts and follow the imperilled girl into adversities that turn this summer shark dish, if not into Jaws, then into a twisting, biting, exciting loner-in-crisis drama. It’s a recruit to modern cinema’s growing roll-call of solo survival yarns. (Redford in a yacht; Reynolds in a grave; Bullock in space.) The 86 minutes speed along. The shark is the most convincing in recent memory. Best of all, there’s Lively.
Part of us knows us that this leggy blonde star has been thrown to us as audience bait. A large expanse of glistening thigh becomes the main injury locus after the first attack. But Lively is better than a bimbo. We know her from thinking thrillers (The Town), from Woody Allen (Café Society) and from her ability to suggest that a Blake brain goes along with the Blake body. Her character’s brain delivers the denouement here: one clever enough to heal the film after much good has been done already — by the vibrant editing and visceral sequences of predator/prey hide and seek — to pick the dodgy stitching out of the early coincidence and contrivance work.