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Film / The Shallows

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The Shallows is a 2016 survival thriller film released directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, Non-Stop, and The Commuter) and starring Blake Lively.

The film centers around young pro surfer Nancy Adams (Lively), a full-time student at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, who is surfing at a secluded beach when she becomes stranded on a giant rock 200 yards away from shore after an enormous great white shark attacks her. Now, she has to find a way to get safely back to shore without getting attacked by the shark again, proving the ultimate contest of wills.

This film contains the following:

  • Action Survivor: Nancy starts out as a med-school dropout who's out to surf, by the end of the film she's forced to her limits to kill a shark hounding her.
  • Actor Allusion: Nancy gets asked if she's from California by two other surfers. Blake Lively actually is from California, though she plays a Texan.
  • Animal Companion: For the bulk of the film Nancy has an injured seagull for company, whom she names Steven Seagull.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Nancy records a video intended to be one of these on one of the dead surfer's GoPro camera, apologizing to her father and sister and stating that she intends to fight to the end before throwing the camera in the ocean to drift to shore. Fortunately, this is actually subverted as she survives the events of the film, due in part to that recording being found by a young boy who runs for help.
  • Asshole Victim: A drunk man, upon seeing Nancy stranded out from shore calling for help, decides to steal her belongings, which she had left on the beach. He then gets into the water to retrieve her surfboard, but is killed by the shark.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The repeatedly shown oil from the whale carcass. Nancy uses her last flare to start a fire and try to kill the shark.
    • The fire coral, which seems to hurt the shark almost as much as it does Nancy. Nancy decides to use this weakness against the shark when she sees the jellyfish, reasoning that the shark will be reluctant to swim through them.
    • The hook embedded in the shark's mouth that Nancy notices earlier comes into play near the end when it snags onto a metal railing while the shark is attacking the buoy. This buys Nancy enough time to set up a trap that kills the shark once and for all.
  • Chekhov's Skill: A minor subplot is that Nancy dropped out of medical school, thus establishing that she'll be able to doctor the shark bite on her leg somewhat.
  • Companion Cube: A rare living example in the form of Steven the seagull.
  • Creative Closing Credits: The end credits are played over imagery of waves turning blood red.
  • Darkest Hour: When Nancy gets trapped on the buoy. Her attempt to signal a ship with a flare gun fails, the shark is circling her, and she's farther away from shore than she was when she was stranded on the rock.
  • Deadly Dodging: Nancy ultimately kills the shark by luring it to the bottom of the ocean and making it impale itself on some rebar.
  • Death by Materialism: The Intoxicated Man, not satisfied with stealing just Nancy's phone and cash as she is stranded on the rock, tries to take her abandoned surfboard too. He ends up attacked and killed by the shark.
  • Determinator: Nancy doesn't give up, even after being bitten by a shark and suffering from severe blood loss, dehydration, malnutrition, exposure, sunburn, infection, fever and fire coral and jellyfish stings...and almost drowning.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The majority of the film is about Nancy's agony as she tries to remain alive with whatever resources she can find after being attacked by a shark and finding herself stranded on a small rock off shore. Her resilience is rewarded though, as she manages to kill the vicious animal and be rescued.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: Despite the film being rated PG-13, it features quite a bit of blood, grievous wounds and a man crawling away from the severed lower half of his body...ONSCREEN.
  • Fanservice: Subverted. Nancy spends the majority of the movie in a bikini. Which allows us to see all the wounds she collects throughout the movie in graphic detail. (A lengthy closeup shot of one of Blake Lively's thighs is normally great. But when said thigh has lots of blood flowing out of it due to a long shark-generated bite... not so much.) However, the first act of the movie, when she's just hanging out on the beach having fun and surfing, plays it straight.
  • Fight to Survive: Nancy finds herself moving from a rock in the middle of the ocean to a buoy in the middle of the ocean in order to reach shore, all while the shark endlessly attacks and stalks her.
  • Flare Gun: Nancy uses one to signal a ship in the film's final act. When this fails she uses the last flare on the shark, setting it on fire momentarily.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Lampshaded when talking to her younger sister. Nancy reminds her that she is supposed to be the responsible one, while Chloe is meant to be foolish one. Of course, in a deleted scene, after Chloe sees the shark's fin in one of the photos Nancy sent her, she tries to call her sister to warn her, but is too late.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The deaths of the two local surfers, given the footage Carlos's son finds at the beginning.
  • Foreshadowing: Carlos refusing to take money for giving Nancy a lift shows that he's a good-hearted guy who will come running the second he hears of someone in distress.
  • From Dress to Dressing: Nancy is forced to use her wetsuit to cover her injured leg.
  • Giving Them the Strip: Nancy uses the remaining sleeve of her wetsuit to hang from the bouy she's stuck on in order to retrieve some flare ammo that is floating in the sea. Later the shark attacks the buoy, but since her wetsuit is still attached to the buoy, Nancy is forced to remove it in order to survive and combat the shark. Also qualifies as a Battle Strip.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Subverted. The film focuses on Nancy's reaction as the drunk man is mauled by the shark, as we can hear the act, but not see it. However, immediately afterwards, the scene cuts to the man, torn in half, crawling in the sand, before finally dying.
  • Green Aesop: In interviews for the film Blake Lively talked about the message which is about our impact on the sea levels which has forced sharks into the shallows.
  • Gross-Up Close-Up: Nancy's leg bite - and her subsequent self-surgery on it - is shown in extreme close up several times.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: The drunken man who tried to steal all of Nancy's valuable stuff is bitten in half by the shark.
  • Hope Spot: Poor Nancy gets several. First a drunk man on the beach, then the two surfers from the day before — all of whom are killed by the shark. She sees a ship passing nearby and fires a flare, which turns out to be a dud, and the ship moves out of sight.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with a small boy discovering a GoPro helmet camera floating in the water, watching the footage of a shark attack on it, and running away to get help. Most of the rest of the film leads up to that point - Nancy is on the buoy at the moment the child finds the camera.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Nancy manages to trick the shark into impaling itself on some rebar at the bottom of the sea floor.
  • In Medias Res: the film actually begins very late in the story's events as a young Mexican boy finds a surfer's helmet with a GoPro camera attached, which caught footage of the surfer being attacked by a shark, followed by a shot of what turns out to be Nancy's wrecked surfboard. The story then flashes back to a few days earlier as Nancy is brought to the beach by a local guide.
  • It Can Think: Nancy seems to realize the shark is not just a dumb animal when she takes refugee on the whale's corpse. The shark drags her further out and begins ramming the body to knock her into the water. It also uses more strategy against Nancy as the film goes on.
  • "Jaws" First-Person Perspective: Several shot are shown from the shark's point of view as it stalks Nancy. First being a subversion, as it was just a dolphin going for a jump over Nancy.
  • Jump Scare: The movie contains a bunch, naturally. One of the most jarring, however, has to be when the shark suddenly emerges from the water after Nancy retrieves the camera.
  • Karmic Death: Nancy tries to get a drunken man in the beach to help her by shouting at him and pointing out where her bag is so he can use her phone to call for help. Rather than help, he proceeds to steal her things, but as he gets into the water to steal her surfboard, the shark attacks him and bites him in half.
  • Keep It Foreign: The Latin American dub changes the location from Mexico to Brazil, thus maintaining the language barrier.
  • Kill It with Fire: Nancy tries to kill the shark by using her flare gun to ignite the whale oil on the water while it swims through it. Subverted, as the plan just pisses it off more.
  • Kiss of Life: Subverted. Carlos drags Nancy out of the surf, but doesn't give her CPR, for some reason. Fortunately, Nancy manages to recover all by herself.
  • Male Gaze: Early on in the movie, there are a few angles of Nancy's ass and boobs as she's on the beach and surfing.
  • Message in a Bottle: A 21st-century equivalent—Nancy records a message on a GoPro camera and then tosses it into the water to get washed ashore.
  • Missing Mom: Nancy's mom died of cancer prior to the film starting.
  • Negated Moment of Awesome: Pissed off at the shark, Nancy fires her last flare at it, and the surrounding oil from the whale's carcass nearby sets it on fire. Cue the burning shark leaping into the air... and immediately landing back to the water, which extinguishes it. Cue an Oh, Crap! from Nancy.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Overlaps with Trailers Always Spoil. The trailer shows us the first clear view of the shark we're given (over halfway through the movie), as if it's the first attack, giving the impression that the film will feature a heavy dose of CGI-shark attacking Blake Lively, rather than the Nothing Is Scarier film it actually gives us.
  • No Name Given: The beach is not explicitly named in the film. Whenever Nancy asks about it, the question is shrugged off.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • We don't get to see the shark mauling the drunk, but we get to hear the splashes and screams as the camera focuses on Nancy's horrified reaction. We do, however, see the gruesome aftermath.
    • Throughout a lot of the film, the shark is only seen in brief glimpses. It isn't until Nancy manages to retrieve the helmet camera that it's properly seen.
  • Oh, Crap!: Nancy is horrified when her attempt at burning the shark to death only makes the shark angrier and attack the buoy more ferociously.
  • Physical Scars, Psychological Scars: Nancy will carry the scars—and the memories—for the rest of her life. However, the last scene of the film is her going back into the ocean in Texas, teaching her little sister to surf. Nancy's dad says that her mother would be very proud, implied to be for not letting the shark attack turn into fear of ever going back in the ocean.
  • Pop-Up Texting: Whenever Nancy is using her phone to look at old pictures and read messages, it's shown as a separate pop-up that takes half the screen. Her watch is also shown this way.
  • Posthumous Character: Nancy's mother has been dead for some time, but her visit to the beach before and relationship with her daughters has a major impact on the plot.
  • Precision F-Strike: Nancy utters one right before she sets the whale oil on fire.
    "Fuck you!"
  • Rasputinian Death: The shark. First, it's shot in the face by a flare, then set on fire after Nancy ignites whale blubber/oil with a flare, and then finally impales itself on rebar at the bottom of the ocean.
  • Red Herring: The friend who was supposed to meet Nancy at the beach, but blew her off to have dinner with a one night stand. She never comes into the plot again after that.
  • Rule of Three: The first two flares from the buoy's flare gun fizzle out almost immediately when Nancy tries to signal a ship in the distance. She uses the third to light the whale oil in the water on fire, temporarily setting the shark on fire as well.
  • See Water: Nancy is somehow able to see a series of metal spikes near the buoy's anchor, 20 feet down, which she uses to kill the shark.
  • Self Stitching: Nancy uses jewelry to stitch her leg wound up. To say this is painful is a gross understatement.
  • Shark Fin of Doom: The shark usually announces itself with its fin rising above the surface. A deleted scene has Nancy's sister seeing the shark fin in the background of one of the pictures her sister took of the beach and trying to call and warn her, only to be second too late, as Nancy has already entered the water and left her phone behind.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Before Nancy tries to swim to the buoy, she sets Steven Seagull, which had provided some levity throughout the film, on a piece of broken surfboard and sends him ashore. He doesn't reappear until after Nancy kills the shark.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The climax of the film has a female swimmer desperately trying to evade a shark by clinging to a buoy. This is an obvious homage to the famous opening scene from Jaws, though, this time, she is successful.
    • Nancy jokingly names the seagull that's stuck with her on the rock as Steven Seagull.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: The shark seems to have it out for Nancy, and anyone else that attempts to get in the water nearby. It keeps at her for a course of more than a full day, even after eating two other people and presumably a whole lot of whale meat. It's implied that the shark isn't so much trying to eat Nancy because it's hungry, but because she intruded on its feeding ground. Also, the shark has a bad history with humans, as indicated by the fish hook stuck in its mouth.
  • Those Two Guys: The two local surfers always appear together and seem to have a nice bond.
  • Thinking Out Loud: Nancy does this a lot, in different ways. While treating her wound, she roleplays a doctor explaining the treatment to a patient as she performs it, in an effort to calm herself. Several times she "speaks to" the shark while strategizing about it. A few times, she speaks to no one in particular.
  • Threatening Shark: The film's antagonist is a gigantic great white that really, really wants to eat Nancy.
  • Took a Level in Badass: In the film's final act, Nancy decides to stop attempting to get to shore and instead fight the shark.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Several deaths throughout the film were spoiled by the trailers.
  • Tropical Island Adventure: Nancy initially arrives at the island with this intention, before it turns into a fight for survival.
  • Unlikely Hero: The boy who found the GoPro camera-helmet washed up on the beach. It turns out that Carlos (the guy who drove Nancy to the beach at the beginning of the movie) is actually his dad, and he really does live nearby. Carlos drags Nancy's unconscious body out of the surf and presumably gets her to a hospital.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Nancy, a blonde American medical student, wants to lose herself and go surfing off the grid in a remote location in Mexico, completely alone; not a safe or practical idea at all. Predictably, it doesn't go well.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: When Nancy decides to swim to a nearby buoy to escape from the shark, she is incredulous once she notices that there is a swarm of jellyfish between her and the buoy...until she realizes that, since the shark itself isn't immune to their stings, she can turn the situation to her advantage.