Nancy (Blake Lively) travels to a secret beach, her mother’s favourite. Now with her mother gone Nancy seems to be looking for inspiration in life, unable to move on.
As she drifts away from the shore, a malevolent giant shark begins stalking her. Stranded on a piece of rock, with the tide coming in, Nancy has to outsmart the predator, which is closing in on her. There is no other way but to face it off in a battle.
Jaume Collet-Serra is good at turning the minimalistic setting into a spectacle. Here he's got a spectacular Mexican (shot in Australia) shore, but it feels as claustrophobic as the flight cabin does in his mystery thriller Non-Stop. Here we get the body of the dead whale, the piece of a rock and the buoy. Getting the best out of each of these elements and turning them into a clever battlefield, Serra structures it all around a centrepiece - a vulnerable young woman with a will of steel.
Blake Lively is believable as Nancy, who is introduced in the opening of the film as happy on the surface, but brooding on the inside. Ready to let go of all hopes for a happy life after her mother's death, she then goes on a journey of transformation into a warrior, not ready to give up, no matter the cost.
The film has plenty of blood, but the actual shark attacks are more suspenseful than gory, and jump scares come one after the other. The grand finale is over the top, but so spectacular you won't stop cheering. It is the best face off of man against shark since JAWS.
THE SHALLOWS does not pretend to be anything but a shark horror movie, and to that extent it's a job well done. The clever use of the minimalistic setting and the focused and believable performance of its leading lady makes it stand out in the line of many other similar films.