Nancy isn't a thrill seeker. But she is seeking something when she hitches a ride to a secluded little Mexican beach with her surfboard and gear bag in hand. It's not big waves she's looking for. Closure might be a better word. Or resolution.
You see, Nancy has a picture of her mom on this same Mexican beach back in 1991. She's smiling, young, glowing. Family legend says that the portrait was snapped on the day that her happy mother discovered she was pregnant with Nancy. And here's Nancy on the same beach now, at about the same age her mother was when that pic was snapped.
Nancy has another picture of her mom on her phone that isn't so hopeful and happy. Mom is smiling, but she's older, wearier. The flowing blonde locks of 1991 are gone, stolen away by the aftereffects of chemotherapy. That somber picture was snapped shortly before her mother's losing battle with cancer came to an end.
Losing her mom took a painful toll on Nancy. The two of them had been very close. In fact, her mother's cancer was part of what motivated the young woman to enroll in med school. But now, what's the point of even finishing her degree? Nancy's desire to help the sick and heal the wounded suddenly feels so ... meaningless.
Maybe connecting with her mother's past on this perfect little beach, surfing the perfect waves like she once did, will make a difference, Nancy hopes. Maybe just soaking in some sun and splashing in the water will help her regain some sense of beauty and purpose and perspective. Perhaps a day here will make things better.
Hey, it can't get much worse, right?
And so Nancy drops her bag and zips up her wetsuit top. She grabs her board and trots toward the sparkling surf.
Off in the distance, just beyond the incoming waves, a very, very large shark is circling.
Nancy unknowingly paddles into the feeding ground of that powerful and terrible beast. Through the trials and torments that follow for the rest of this tense game of cat and mouse—er, shark and surfer—Nancy's focus shifts from depression to determination. Despite the shark's obvious natural advantages, Nancy wills herself to outwit the hungry, ferocious fish and to survive.
That outcome, however, is anything but certain. And so Nancy retrieves a deceased fellow surfer's camera in the hope of leaving behind a message of love for her father and sister. She also speaks of following her mother's example and choosing to fight for whatever bit of life she has left.
Nancy also desperately tries to warn and then help several other surfers who are oblivious to the shark's deadly presence. She even puts her own life on the line in a desperate attempt to save another of the shark's victims.
A man whispers "thank God" in Spanish.
When Nancy gets ready to hit the waves, we see she's wearing a very skimpy bikini beneath her street clothes. Other than a wetsuit top that she tears apart for survival purposes, those tiny patches of cloth are all that cover the young woman through her travails. The bikini bottom slips a bit and shows even more of her backside at one point.
A text message from a female friend hints that the friend will be spending the night with a "cute dude." Male surfers flirtily invite Nancy to join them (before being eaten, of course).
A predatory, 15-foot-long great white shark brutally attacks several people. It knocks Nancy off her surfboard and drags her by the leg. It practically inhales another surfing victim, breaching dramatically out of the water to grab him and his surfboard in its mouth. Another man is pulled down just as Nancy's about to help him escape the water, leaving behind a huge quantity of blood on the ocean's surface. A third man's body is seen on the beach, with a careful camera shot implying he's been torn in half without quite showing that gruesome reality.
After Nancy is attacked, she finds a small exposed reef where she ties off her profusely bleeding leg with a tourniquet. The med school student then proceeds to "stitch" her torn flesh together with her earrings. She uses a sleeve from her wetsuit top to create a compression bandage for her leg. We later see the young woman's foot turn purple, and she reports that gangrene is setting into the wounded limb.
Nancy's foot, hand and shoulder are rent by underwater fire coral, and her arm is stung by a jellyfish. She's threatened several more times by the shark's huge maw of slashing teeth. And she thumps her forehead on a metal bar, breaking the skin.
A dead whale corpse is pocked with bloody bite marks. Nancy uses a flair gun to ignite a pool of whale oil, briefly enveloping the shark in flames.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word and one s-word are joined by a single exclamation of "oh my god!"
Drug and Alcohol Content
A drunken man passes out on the beach. When he awakes, he drops his bottle and staggers over to steal Nancy's belongings.
Other Negative Elements
Nancy vomits after trying to eat raw crab.
You may have heard comparisons splashed around between this pic and the Steven Spielberg's classic aquatic jump-fest, Jaws. And, yep, there's a pretty gigantic and preposterously vindictive shark sculling about in this movie, too. That said, The Shallows isn't just a "We're gonna need a bigger boat" clone. It actually goes quite a bit deeper than that.
What we get here instead is more of a taut, edge-of-your-seat soliloquy that examines one woman's struggles. The story begins with her internal struggles to come to grips with her grief over the loss of her mother. And, obviously, it shifts to her decidedly external struggle to fend off a dastardly underwater denizen even as her body is battered, bruised and lacerated.
The film is lean, well-acted, cinematographically immersive and tense. And it speaks of the human spirit and how we instinctively muster the strength to help others, reach out to loved ones, and focus on the importance and dignity of life when faced with the seeming certainty of death.
That said, The Shallows is perpetually, painfully traumatic once the shark surfaces. We see several people viciously mauled by a razor-toothed beast. Blood repeatedly colors the foaming water. And as the put-upon protagonist is bashed, bloodied, stung, ripped and then attempts to suture together gory chunks of her own torn flesh, we can't help but wince at her painful plight while she repeatedly musters her determination to survive.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Blake Lively as Nancy; Óscar Jaenada as Carlos; Brett Cullen as Father; Sedona Legge as Chloe
June 24, 2016
September 27, 2016