Friday, October 28, 2016

30 Days of Nightmares #28: THE SHALLOWS (2016)

The Story: A young woman goes surfing on a remote beach in Mexico, and encounters a killer shark.

Expectations: Every few years, we get a new JAWS movie.  In 2003, it was OPEN WATER.  In  2010, it was THE REEF.  And then there are variations like BACKCOUNTRY, which substitutes a bear for the shark.  So how has JAWS managed to spawn its own subgenre?  Because it’s not so much a movie as a modern myth.  Like most myths, it is simple and primal—and thus seems easy to replicate.  All you need is a hero and a shark, right?  This is basic stuff: Man vs. Nature.

But actually, JAWS isn't that simple.  It’s really more of a character piece, and the shark is really a catalyst for the characters.  For Quint, the shark is the focal point of obsession.  For Hooper, the shark isvocation.  For Brody, it’s a challenge, forcing him to confront his fears.  The shark’s motives are simpler.  As Hooper says, “All it does is swim, eat, and make baby sharks.”  Until the sequels, anyway.

Reaction: Like the shark in the sequels, the shark in THE SHALLOWS is angry.  For a while, I thought it was just stalking Blake Lively because it had become trapped in the cove during low tide and had nothing else to do.  But as the movie progressed, it became clear that this shark was very, very angry.   Even on a full stomach, the shark is ruthlessly determined to eat her, regardless of every deterrent she throws at him.  She shoots the shark in the face with a flare gun and still it comes back.  Why?  Because it is angry.  This is not JAWS.  This is JAWS: THE REVENGE.

Also, the shark is mostly digital.  Which makes sense because real sharks don’t get angry.  But, hey, we live in an age where digital sharks are pretty common, so I’ll move on to other problems.

Blake Lively plays a med student who decides to quit school and go on walkabout after her mother dies of cancer.   Her angst is melodramatically summed up with a few quick text messages and iphone photos, followed by a short Skype call with her dad who implores her “not to give up.”  His words are obviously fortuitous.

Blake Lively is no Roy Scheider, but I didn’t mind watching her for 90 minutes.  I didn’t even mind the fact that this movie builds from painfully obvious melodrama to total contempt for situational logic.  In the middle, it still managed enough to craft enough suspense to keep me entertained.  

Oh, and there was a seagull named, get this, Steven Seagull.  He's like Wilson to Blake Lively’s Tom Hanks.  Blake Lively is no Tom Hanks either, but Steven Seagull can act circles around Wilson.  That's got to be worth something.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: At one point, the heroine stitches up a shark bite wound with her earrings.  It's pretty gnarly.

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