Monday, January 9, 2017

The Shallows (2016) [The Celluloid Zeroes Proudly Present: A Franchise Kill]

[Blogger's Note: Before we get started, I want to apologize for the lack of updates since November. After the election of a short-tempered Reality TV star to the highest office in the land, I found myself really struggling to get up the positive energy I needed in order to update and I also focused most of my energy into spending time with my loved ones--and spoiling my son rotten for Christmas]

The challenge with jumping on board a Roundtable focused on reviewing every entry in a franchise is that, well, sometimes a franchise does not have enough entries to go around. And the Celluloid Zeroes are all lovers of crap cinema, so when choosing to cover the entire Jaws franchise it should be obvious that we all wanted to claim the worst entries, but we couldn't all do Jaws:The Revenge, now could we?

Rip-offs were, of course, fair game. That left a lot of attractive possibilities such as Piranha, Alligator, or Great White (aka The Last Shark), which was considered to be such a brazen rip-off that it was sued out of American theaters by Universal. However, one film called to me as a way to address the continuing legacy of Jaws, even if it might not seem that obvious at first.

After all, if you've seen the trailers, you know that today's film is about a woman finding herself stranded in the ocean by a ferocious shark near a secluded beach. That premise owes more to a film like Open Water* than your typical Jaws rip-off, which usually feature large numbers of people likely to be eaten by its aquatic menace.

[* Granted, Open Water makes joking reference to Jaws by naming its protagonists after the first two victims, but it can't otherwise be said to be riffing on the film]

However, given that the menace in this film is an abnormally huge Great White shark, and the way the film ramps up ridiculously at its climax--I would argue that you could call this Jaws: The Shallows and edit in John Williams's famous theme, and it wouldn't be a stretch.

The film, in a move that seems more and more typical these days, opens with a scene that actually comes from much later in the narrative. A young boy (Pablo Calva) finds a damaged helmet floating in the surf, with a GoPro camera mounted on top of it. Reviewing the footage, the boy sees the camera's owner surfing with another man--and then suddenly sees footage of the surfer trying desperately to pull himself up on the rocks, as though something is chasing him. Given that he then submerges and gets a great shot right down the throat of a huge shark, the chances the guy is still alive are pretty slim.

The boy runs down the beach hurriedly, carrying the camera. He doesn't notice the shattered remains of a surfboard that washes up.

Too late, Orin Scrivello learned that becoming a shark dentist had been a mistake.
After the title card, we are introduced to Nancy Adams (Blake Lively), riding in the cab of a pick-up truck through a Mexican jungle. Thanks to the cinema magic that makes the contents of her phone screen float around her head like dialogue options in a Sims game, we see that she is staring longingly at a picture of a Polaroid--the subject of which is a young blonde woman on a beach with a surfboard. The caption reads 1991, so it's not surprising that when Carlos (Óscar Jaenada), the driver, asks if that's her, she tells him it's actually her mother.

The whole story will come out in due time, but she tells Carlos a piece of it: her mother found and surfed a secluded "secret" beach back in 1991, right before she found out she was pregnant with Nancy. Since her mother taught both Nancy and her little sister Chloe (Sedona Legge) how to surf, she had always wanted to take them to the same beach.

Unfortunately, we all know that being a parent means that shit like that is far easier said than done. And since Nancy has the most organized photo album on her phone, we'll later see the progression of her mother from young surfer, to middle-aged mom (Janelle Bailey), to obvious cancer patient. It almost doesn't need to be said that she's coming to the beach to honor her dear departed mom.

Unsurprisingly, it is incredibly tough to find stills from this movie that aren't focused on objectifying our heroine.
However, after Carlos drops Nancy off at the beach--and steadfastly refuses to take her money, because he saw driving her to the beach as a mere favor--we do get it explicitly said when Nancy has a Skype call with her sister. Since Nancy's Skype connection is immaculate, she is able to show her sister the beach before her father (Brett Cullen) hops on the call and expresses his concern about Nancy. It seems that her mom's passing made Nancy drop out of med school, and her father tries to point out that she ought to stay in med school to try and save others like her mom.

Well, that awkward call complete, Nancy swims out on her board--missing the text from her friend, whom she earlier told Carlos had ditched her in order to recover from "the Irish flu" at their hotel after partying too hard the night before. Unfortunately, she's ditching Nancy even worse than that now because she's going on a hot date while Nancy goes surfing.

She catches a few waves before making the acquaintance of two local surfers (Angelo José Lozano Corzo and José Manuel Trujillo Salas), both of whom have a bit of fun with lightly teasing her about her poor Spanish. Naturally, one of these surfers is wearing a GoPro helmet. They also helpfully tell her to watch out for the rocks that form a small island at low tide and to avoid the fire coral, as it will sting the dickens out of her if she bumps into it.

After surfing alongside them for a bit, Nancy goes ashore to have some food. The two surfers come ashore jut as she decides to go out once more, and start packing up their stuff. Unfortunately for Nancy, this means they're too far away when things start to rapidly go South.

First, she gets startled by a pod of dolphins that seem to be going somewhere in an awful hurry. She then discovers a dead humpback whale floating a few yards from the aforementioned tide island. Apparently not being much a viewer of the Discovery Channel, she floats next to the dead whale for a few minutes, even when she notices the huge bites taken out of it--and then it starts to be pushed from below by a large scavenger.

Thus it's too late when she decides to turn and surf away. A shark suddenly lunges out of the way she is surfing and wipes her out. After getting knocked around by the waves, she swims over to her board--only to be immediately yanked under the water by the shark. In true actual shark fashion, after it gets a good taste of her it lets her go. Also, because if if it went full Jaws on her, we wouldn't have much of a movie.

Bleeding, panicked, and desperate, Nancy swims to the first bit of safety she can think of: the dead whale. Unfortunately, in a cruel joke she can see the two surfers as they drive away, but when she sees their jeep stop it turns out to be because one of them had to secure a loose surfboard strap--and then they are gone, completely oblivious to her ordeal. She has no time to process that before the shark is pushing at the bottom of the whale to try and flip her into the water.

Nancy just makes it to the outcropping of rocks--planting her bare foot right in some fire coral in the process--before the shark can catch her. She's also not entirely alone, since a sea gull that was injured when the shark flipped the whale has taken shelter on the rocks, too. Well, and of course, the shark is very intent on keeping her company.

"Well, at least I'll get to be featured on shark week."
In a game attempt to not die, Nancy puts her medical training to use by making a tourniquet out of her surfboard tether, and stitching up the bite on her leg using her earrings and necklace. (You, uh, may want to look away during this bit. It's a bit unnerving how graphic you can be in PG-13 movies these days, huh?) She tears up her wet suit to use as a bandage, as well, so she at least won't bleed to death. Except now she's stuck over a hundred yards from shore and any chance of calling for help.

Worst of all, it turns out that the shark has decided that anyone else who gets into the water shall be killed instantly. A drunk man (Diego Espejel) who decides to steal her floating surfboard ends up bitten in half, and when the two surfers return and attempt to help her after they see doesn't end well for them.

So, now that the shark has proven it will not give up until Nancy is dead, she's going to have to come up with a plan. Especially since the tide is coming in, and soon she'll be right where the shark wants her...
I was skeptical when I first heard they were remaking Psycho Shark, but...
I'll get this out of the way: it's a bit awkward that the film introduces a total of five characters that aren't white and three of them end up killed by the shark. I don't think the filmmakers really considered this, but it's definitely a bit awkward.

However, aside from that I confess myself a bit mystified by the mediocre or bad reviews I saw about the movie before I caught it in the theater. Especially since many seemed to find it dull and meandering. I highly disagree.

This film is a brisk 86 minutes in a world when every fucking movie has to be two and a half hours long, and while it makes sure to establish our heroine as a character before it gets down to business, it makes sure not to linger too long on the set-up. Blake Lively may not get much credit as an actress--largely due to being part of such a lovingly trashy show as Gossip Girl, I'm sure--but she does a great job here. Especially since a lot of the film was shot in a large pool and yet she still sells the primal terror of being a land animal caught in the ocean.

It is true, however, that she is a bit upstaged by her costar--the seagull she eventually names Steven. I'm not kidding, that sea gull is a charismatic presence.

Her other major costar is, of course, the shark. Now, it's clear that this shark is CGI and it is also clear that this film's CGI is rather shoddy when we see the dolphins, jellyfish, and the occasional greenscreen flub. So one would think the shark would also come off vaguely like it swam off the set of a SyFy Channel Original.

However, the shark looks pretty damn amazing. It moves and behaves like a real shark, complete with rolling eyes and snarling lips when it lunges in for the kill. There are few scenes where it doesn't look great, even though it clearly changes size throughout the film. Most of the stills I chose above would make you think it was maybe a slightly larger than average specimen, but holy crap by the end that sucker appears to be at least as big as Ol' Bruce.

"Mmm, drumsticks! My favorite!"
It could be that the negative reviews came about because the film's climax is fucking bonkers. We go from a semi-realistic and subdued survival horror film, to an overblown action-packed monster movie showdown. It's like the film switches genres midway through.

And I Goddamn love it.

This is a movie that is harrowing, makes you jump, and then just becomes fun and even silly. So one could say that that is what it rips off the most from Jaws.

So, while I wouldn't put The Shallows on my list of top five films from 2016, I still highly recommend it. It's a damn good time and we need more horror movies this fun nowadays.

Maybe the secret is more seagulls,
This has been my rather tardy contribution to The Celluloid Zeroes Franchise Kill of Jaws:

Seeker of Schlock put a bounty out on Jaws

Checkpoint Telstar goes sailing with Jaws 2

Cinemasochist Apocalypse is Coming Right At You! with Jaws 3-D

Micro-Brewed Reviews took things too personal with Jaws: The Revenge

Web of the Big Damn Spider sighted The Sea Serpent