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The Shallows

This is one of my favorite shark movies of all time.

Yes, that is quite the statement. It's always kind of anxious to say that. I always worry that people will watch it and go "Really, that is your favorite? Wow, you got bad taste." It's silly, I know. Anxiety is often silly. But today is my birthday, so I'm going to talk about a movie I absolutely love.

This is actually the very first shark movie that I watched for my birthday celebration. It's the one that started my tradition all the way back in 2016.

The premise is very simple. Nancy (Blake Lively) gets attacked by a great white shark while surfing alone in an isolated beach in Mexico. Two hundred yards from shore and bleeding out from a bite on her leg, she climbs on top of a large rock in order to escape. The rock is only a temporary sanctuary, though. She has until high tide to figure out a way to get back to shore alive and in one piece.

There's also a sea gull that she names Steven Seagull. It is a real sea gull.

Before watching this, I had only known her as the woman who was in Gossip Girl (which I have not watched) and was married to Ryan Reynolds. I had a very low opinion of her acting ability and expected very little from her.

I am so glad that I was wrong. Blake Lively is on screen for almost every second of the 86 minute runtime. For most of it, she's completely alone. To say that she carries this movie is an understatement. It simply would not work if she was not fantastic in every moment.

She is fantastic in every moment. She's incredibly endearing and lovely in the first third of the movie, which makes you root for her. You want her to survive and cheer for her successes. You wince and gasp at her failures. There's some very excellent sound design in this movie, specifically whenever she crashes against rocks underwater. There's a very sickening crunch that sells how hard she's hitting them and immediately makes everything feel a lot more grounded and real.

It's almost a cliche to describe something as a "very physical performance," but that is what Lively gives us. She really holds nothing back, and you can't help but get swept up in that. For 86, taut, tense minutes, she swims and surfs and scrambles on top of a whale carcass and strategizes the best way to get home safe.

She's so smart too. She makes smart, logical decisions once things hit the fan, but they're decisions that also make sense for who she is. Nancy went to medical school, so she knows how to do a stitch and how to stop her leg from bleeding. She knows that you have to loosen a tourniquet at some point because your leg needs blood flow to keep it from dying.

Of course, I question her intelligence in other things. Going to a beach in the middle of nowhere in a country whose language you don't really speak is maybe not the best idea as a single female. Doing that without any concrete plans on how to get back to your resort is a very bad idea. Doing that without anyone trustworthy looking for you and waiting for you to return is a horrible idea! Now, I know that I've watched a lot of horror movies, but the fact that Nancy is only threatened by the shark is a little surprising to me. Don't get me wrong, it's a nice surprise. But still a surprise.

The movie is absolutely gorgeous as well. Only about 10% of the movie was shot on location in Australia with the rest being done in a tank with a bluescreen. It's very difficult to tell what moments are in the tank, though. I thought that it was all done on location until I started to look up trivia for this review.

The underwater photography in particular is just beautiful. It's one of those things that I feel like is surprisingly rare in these kinds of movies. You don't often get long shots in crystal clear water of both your actress and your shark on screen at the same time. You get a lot of them here. And overall, the CGI looks pretty good. It gets shaky towards the end, but outside of the final climax, it's very solid.

The plot zips along at a good pace. Nothing feels rushed and nothing feels dragged out. Each beat logically follows the one that came before it without any wild leaps or weird twists. And most importantly, it all feels real. It feels visceral. It feels tense.

I love it. It's one of my favorite shark movies ever.

Random Thoughts

Lively was actually inspired to take this movie after watching her husband, Ryan Reynolds, film Buried.

Honestly, the least realistic part of this is that only one shark showed up. A whale corpse like that would attract dozens.

I always love when you can see someone's appearance degrade over the course of their ordeal. Nancy ending the movie sunburned and severely dehydrated is one of those little details that make everything better.

The movie also does something interesting with how they present things like video calls and photos that Nancy has saved to her phone where it has them floating next to her head. It's an unnecessary flourish, but not a bad one.

Still accepting name suggestions for Fangirl's 2024 Summer of Sharks!

Also movie requests! Let me know if you have a shark movie that you'd like me to review this summer!

An Honest Fangirl loves video games, horror movies, and superheroes, and occasionally manages to put words together in a coherent and pleasing manner.


  1. Happy birthday!

    I've not seen this one as I don't catch many modern flicks with some key exceptions, I saw most of the movies I'm rewatching today thanks to far too much time in front of the TV as a kid.

    It sounds like it has a lot of tension, which is good for this type of movie, but I wonder why the shark seemed hellbent to go after her like that.

    1. Thank you!

      There was a whale corpse floating nearby, which lured it in the first place and convinced it to stick around so that it could feast on it. Should have made that clearer in my review!

    2. I see! You did mention the whale corpse, but wasn't sure if that came later or not.

  2. What about Jaws? We don't have a review of it. And since it's such an old classic, you could do it in total spoiler mode if you wanted. It's something I did with a bunch of my favorite old movies several years ago. Like this one:



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