When the greatest stretch of plausibility in a film from “Unknown” and “Non-Stop” director Jaume Collet-Serra is that a picturesque beach is supposed to double for dumpy Galveston, TX, that’s a pretty big victory for moviegoers.
Collet-Serra’s latest outing, “The Shallows,” finds tense thrills at the intersection of maritime horror from “Jaws” and an improbably stranded adventurer similar to James Franco’s Aaron Ralston in “127 Hours.” Blake Lively’s Nancy, a recent med-school dropout, heads out to the secluded Mexican beachside site from a beloved picture of her recently departed mother. All the factors are in play for her to end up in a pickle: inability to speak Spanish, isolation, distance from communication technology and, of course, just plain naïveté.
Getting to Nancy’s stranding from shore is a necessary evil, though Collet-Serra makes it more exciting than it needs to be with some well-shot surfing scenes. He really takes it to the next level once the shark in the water reveals itself as a menace who will not let any human escape his feeding grounds without drawing blood.
Spielberg or Boyle this is not, but clever shot choice and editing make “The Shallows” exciting and taut throughout. Notably, Collet-Serra chooses to convey the terror of one key attack not through explicit depiction of blood and gore but rather through a close-up on Blake Lively’s startled, petrified face. He’s also quite attuned to the way technologies from smartphones to GoPros take people out of their surroundings and immerse them into the digital realm. Yet nothing compares to pulse-pounding moments where Nancy must go inside her own head and then summarily execute the latest unlikely effort to ensure her survival. B+ /