By MICHELLE MARCHANTE
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, “The Shallows” is a survival horror thriller that plays more on the survival thriller part rather than the horror, with an underlying theme of man vs. nature or rather in this case, woman vs. nature.
The publicity given to the movie from the trailer to the movie poster’s byline of ‘What was once in the deep is now in the shallows’ brings back memories of the ever-famous “Jaws,” whose great white shark terrified viewers everywhere and made them afraid of what was hiding in the ocean’s waters.
While “The Shallows” publicity made it seem like the 2016 version of a “Jaws” horror movie, in truth, the movie’s true execution could be compared more to that of “The Martian.”
“The Shallows”- much like “The Martian”- is a survival story of a single character who is facing the ultimate battle of life or death with a force that they are absolutely powerless in controlling: Nature.
While “The Martian’s” protagonist Mark Watney’s (Matt Damon) intelligence and his will of survival was tested by the brutal, cold, uncultivated “dead” land of Mars, “The Shallows” protagonist Nancy (Blake Lively) is tested by one of nature’s most dangerous places for humans: the ocean.
While both films have the environment itself going against them, with both Damon and Lively’s characters having to struggle with their minimal understanding of their location, their non-existent food source and their need for warmth, Lively’s character faces an additional threat which “The Martian” lacks: a natural-born predator, which in this case, is a female great white shark, that allows “The Shallows” to become a thriller.
While “Jaws” had viewers connecting the ever-famous music to a shark attack, “training” them to tense whenever the music would play, “The Shallows” only relied on different camera angles, rapid cuts and overextended underwater shots to create suspense.
Examining the editing of the film, one can almost find a camera angles pattern of sorts: Wide-Angle, Medium Close-up/Close-Up’s, Long-Shot and Underwater Close-up’s.
While the film’s editing doesn’t completely follow this pattern the entire length of the film, this type of pattern is consistently used and when utilized with rapid cuts, these angles are what allows the film to create suspenseful peril for the audience.
The length of each underwater shot also differs slightly, with most scenes being a tad bit longer than the rapid cuts the rest of the movie accustoms the audience to, using this slight lengthening to create discomfort among the audience or making it a tad bit shorter to create a successful cut on action when the shark attacks.
While there is no doubt that “The Shallows” was a woman vs. nature battle of wits, with Nancy having to utilize the intelligence, adaptability and resourcefulness that tends to separate humans from animals to outsmart the shark and ultimately survive, the movie also played with the concept of the camera’s “predatory” male gaze.
Played by famous “Gossip Girl” actress, Blake Lively, the protagonist Nancy, a young woman who essentially singlehandedly outwits and kills the greatest predator of the ocean by the end of the movie does so while showcasing her feminine appeal to the audience, something that is unusual in a survival story.
The camera’s male gaze was absolute and obvious through the entirety of the film, ensuring that Lively appeared attractive at all times, showcasing her body throughout the film, from the moment she prepared to get in the water to showing snippets of different portions of her skin as she struggled to stay alive.
While it’s unclear whether this obvious play on Lively’s sexual appeal was done to attract more male viewers to a thriller movie whose protagonist was a female, whether it was to stay more attuned to Lively’s “Gossip Girl” fame or to simply follow the standard sexual attractiveness that is required by any female movie actress, it was most likely a mixture of all three.
Nonetheless, while “The Shallows” may not be as terrifying as “Jaws” to its audience, it showcases how camera angles and editing when combined together can create a compelling suspenseful story even when the only true characters of the movie are just one actress and a CGI-created shark.
MICHELLE MARCHANTE is a guest contributor for The Buzz Insider and the Opinion Director at FIUSM. She is a writer, reader and filmmaking enthusiast. Currently, she is studying to get her degree in Broadcast Journalism and is also working on her second novel. Connect with her on Twitter @TweetMichelleM
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Image retrieved from IMDB.