Stars: Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada, Sedona Legge, Brett Cullen
Release date: August 18th, 2016
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 86 minutes
Best part: Blake Lively.
Worst part: The CGi shark.
Sharks are fearsome and fascinating members of the animal kingdom. Jaws, since its 1975 release, has scared people from going into the water. The Steven Spielberg classic is essentially an expertly crafted B-movie. It also paved the way for many shark-related thrillers from Deep Blue Sea to Sharknado (sadly). The Shallows is…yet another one.
Although better than most of them, The Shallows is Hollywood’s perfunctory return to the sub-genre. Its marketing campaign relied on two things – the monster in question and Blake Lively’s stunning post-pregnancy body. If that sounds appealing, this survival-thriller is cinematic gold. It follows former medical student turned permanent traveller Nancy (Lively). Nancy’s trip through Mexico includes a secluded beach her mother had once visited. Whilst surfing throughout the afternoon, she meets two beefcake surfers (Angelo José Lozano Corzo and José Manuel Trujillo Salas). Catching that one last wave, she is stranded 200 metres from shore.
Of course, a massive Great White Shark forces her between a rock and a hard place. In shark-thriller fashion, The Shallows balances between genuine moments and silly plot twists. The central premise is simple – placing one person in one dangerous place/situation for 90 thrilling minutes. Like your average survival-thriller (Life of Pi, 127 Hours, Gravity), the drama pinpoints our basic fears. Lively and director Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop, Run All Night) stick by the simple-yet-effective formula. Collet-Serra handles the loneliness-in-a-large-space set-up expertly. The first third sees Nancy connect with the picturesque setting. It’s easy to lose one’s self in the blue sky and pristine ocean vistas. However, its surfware-commercial style and fetishistic butt-shots extend this sequence several minutes too long.
Screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski tries and fails to develop Lively’s character. Her back story – her mother’s death, dropping out of medical school, daddy problems etc. – has been done countless times before. However, once the mayhem begins, Collet-Serra and Lively elevate the material. The movie devotes time to the lead character’s intelligence. Developing multiple survival strategies, Nancy is a fun and interesting character by the third act. Monitoring the shark’s behaviour, She puts her medical skills and tenacity to the test. The movie’s most exciting moments see her rushing between the reef, nearby whale carcass and buoy. The third act is a schlocky, over-the-top thrill-ride between obstacles. Lively puts her impressive physicality and neat comedic timing to good use. Sadly, her shark co-star never looks convincing. The gleaming CGi aesthetic undercuts opportunities for jump scares.
The Shallows may be one of 2016’s most entertaining blockbusters. Its simple-yet-effective formula overshadows the dumber elements. It lacks the pretentiousness, cynical attitude and haphazard storytelling of most of the year’s bigger-budget efforts.
Celebrated Irish actor Liam Neeson has had a whirlwind career. Predicting his career trajectory has been, and still is, like predicting a hurricane’s turbulent path. The theatre actor’s life soared after his Oscar nominated turn in Schindler’s List. However, with Taken becoming a sleeper hit back in 2008, his recent career choices have spoken for themselves. Neeson’s jarring predicament, considering his recent script choices, is seemingly a harsh reality. His new blockbuster, Non-Stop, is part of a significant problem. The movie, despite its broadly entertaining moments, is a bafflingly idiotic action-thriller.
Soaring to the top of the US box office immediately after its release, the movie will push studios to throw Neeson into similar fare. Fortunately, for Neeson at least, he stands head-and-shoulders above his movie. Along with being one of Hollywood’s tallest actors, his might stems from raw power. Admittedly, with Neeson being one of tinsel town’s most popular actors, I could spend this entire review simply praising his existence. Here, like with previous efforts, he plays an all-encompassing badass with a point to prove. US federal air marshal Bill Marks (Neeson), from the opening scene, is presented as a danger to himself and others. Forced to watch over British Aqualantic Flight 10 journey from New York to London, his steely edge pushes him through air travel’s vacuous processes. Pushing past the security gate and multiple passengers, Marks, obviously, bears a disturbingly dark past. Burdened by his daughter’s death to Leukaemia, the alcoholic divorcee’s brash nature is about to get significantly worse. During the flight, after introducing himself to sensitive passenger Jen Summers (Julianne Moore), Marks is sent text messages from a mysterious source. The culprit, identified him/herself as one of the passengers/crew, threatens the disgruntled air marshal. Soon enough, the passenger threatens to kill someone every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred into a specialised account. Upon discovering the suspect’s true intentions, Marks finds himself on a knife’s edge. Beyond the ensuing fist-fights, speeches, and gun shots, the post-911/Transport Security Authority commentary is the movie’s biggest obstacle. Arguably, the movie’s degrading messages should’ve been left on the tarmac.
Marks, one to hit first and ask questions later, becomes the real target of the suspect’s diabolical plan. Admittedly, to people coming into Non-Stop cold, the premise might seem promising. In addition, despite the gargantuan flaws, this is nowhere near Neeson’s worst effort. Sitting on the Neeson-o-meter between his enjoyably frantic action-dramas (Taken, The Grey) and drearily unwatchable blockbusters (Taken 2, the Clash of the Titans series), Non-Stop could and should have been more interesting. Obviously, the movie rests entirely on Neeson’s star power. In every frame, Neeson’s character pieces together this egregious puzzle. Unfortunately, neither he nor director Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously worked together on Unknown, can save this preposterous and uneasy narrative. With several clues peppered around the aircraft, the screenplay’s in-your-face attitude delivers a stupefying and nonsensical answer for each intriguing question. The suspect’s plan, though intense at first, becomes steadily unconscionable. From the first murder onward, the story’s implausible sequence of events relinquishes Non-Stop of tangibility, tension and genuine chills. Threatening to topple over at any moment, the debilitating narrative kicks into overdrive long after the 45-minute mark. Despite Collet-Serra’s commendable efforts, the discomforting tonal shifts highlight Non-Stop‘s greatest inconsistencies and plot holes. Starting off as a nail-biting drama-thriller, the movie’s first half heads in the right direction. However, after the premise is examined and explained, the second half becomes a tedious and laughable action flick. Despite the Speed-like premise, this thriller transitions into Red Eye‘s inferior relation. Essentially, this is what happens when Strangers on a Train meets Snakes on a Plane.
“I’m not hijacking this plane. I’m trying to save it!” (Bill Marks (Liam Neeson), Non-Stop).
The supporting travellers.
On top of its tonal issues, Non-Stop sports an overabundance of tiresome cliches, plot contrivances, and irritating characters. Containing more red herrings than a Scandinavian fish market, this action flick spends its first half charting stereotypes and over-the-top moments. Remember, it only get worse from there. With twists and turns hastily thrown into each scene, the final third’s revelations aren’t worth mentioning. Yes, they are that ridiculous! Despite these issues, some credit should go to Collet-Serra for the first half. Saving otherwise abominable material, his attention to detail and unique visual flourishes become bursts of fresh air within this blatantly preposterous adventure. Aware of the claustrophobic setting, Collet-Serra’s style puts the “thrill” in “xenophobic and forgettable action-thriller” (the screenwriters add everything else). The director adds a cold, distant tinge to this straight-laced thrill-ride. Toning each colour pattern down to a bleak shade of grey, Collet-Serra strives for an intense aura. Aiming for reality (within the first two-thirds, at least), he illuminates the setting’s more unsettling aspects. Outdoing himself, his camera techniques loop, pan, and whirl around characters. The action sequences definitely aren’t for the faint hearted. With turbulence and cramped areas becoming major obstacles, the Bourne-like fist fights are worthwhile. Unfortunately, the final third’s CGI-fuelled roller-coaster ride is deftly unsatisfactory. Beyond Neeson and Moore’s acting talents, there’s little to enjoy. The supporting characters – played by Corey Stoll (House of Cards), Scoot McNairy (Argo), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) – are silly hindrances.
Thankfully, damning Non-Stop with faint praise, this action flick lives up to its title’s promise. This gritty but irritating thrill-ride is chock-a-block with potentially mesmerising moments and charming actors. Unfortunately, before its confusing denouement, Neeson’s latest effort descends into hokey territory. Neeson, at the very least, should think before choosing his next project. Schindler’s List and Kinsey now seem like distant memories.
Verdict: A stupefying and mildly distasteful action-thriller.