Take any actor and stick them in a situation where they basically have to act all by themselves and it can be a make-or-break result. It has worked wonderfully in a film like Cast Away where Tom Hanks talked to himself and a volleyball for most of the running time and it can also work horribly like… well, actually I can’t think of a truly bad example of this type of movie because they are always so meticulously crafted and the lead actor in question is generally someone that is good enough to carry a film on their own. In this film, that person in question is Blake Lively. I never thought much of Blake until I was incredibly impressed with her in the film Age of Adaline. She showed a grounded presence in that film that I did not expect and ever since then I have noticed her acting continues to improve with every film. Here she must shoulder most of the film on her own and does she pull it off and make it a worthwhile film? In short, absolutely.
The story is simple: Nancy (Blake Lively), a medical student who has seemingly dropped out after her terminally ill mother passed away decides to go to a secluded beach to surf which happens to be the same beach that her mother surfed at before finding out she was pregnant. As you can imagine, this is where the giant shark encounter comes into play as Nancy must use wits, her medical knowledge and her perseverence to survive the ordeal and make it back to shore. The film’s plot is very intense and the best part about it is that anything can happen: will she make it? Will the shark kill her? We never really get an indication and it always feels like either conclusion is likely to occur.
The biggest strength of the film is Blake Lively herself. She exudes strength and beauty while at the same time she is a very strong female character. Sure, she is in peril for much of the film but she never becomes a screaming banshee like horror films of yesteryear. She is resourceful, tough and unwilling to yield to her predator or Mother Nature in general. This is really Blake’s coming-out party as an actress much like 127 Hours netted James Franco all kinds of praise. Aside from Blake, no one else’s role is really big enough to grade as a performance but no one sticks out as particularly bad or awkward; everyone serves their role amicably. However, there is one other “performance” I want to note. Much like Tom Hanks had the companionship of Wilson the Volleyball in Cast Away, we also get a similar thing here as Lively is accompanied by an injured seagull that hangs out with her for most of the film while she attempts to evade her enemy. The bird is cute to begin with but it almost serves as a symbol of perhaps someone looking over her (like her mother) and her ray of hope being represented by a pure, white bird is not a metaphor that’s lost on this reviewer.
The shark itself is another important aspect of the film and director Jaume Collet-Serra uses it sparingly and effectively. It is an entirely CGI creation but the design of the shark is so visceral that it always feels like a very real threat whenever it appears or even when the fin is the only thing that can be seen. Couple that with the beautiful cinematography in this film as the scenery is shot gorgeously and accentuates all the violence and rapid-fire thrills. This is a film that looks and sounds way better than a typical film of its kind. The script is also very strong for a movie like this as well. We get some nice background for Nancy and understand the motivation behind her journey to this island and it even allows for a nice morality lesson and some wicked metaphors. I don’t want to give too much of it away out of fear of ruining too many plot details.
I highly recommend you check this one out. It avoids a lot of tired cliches, sports a very strong lead performance and has some amazing visuals and thrills to keep you entertained for its entire brisk (but appropriate) 87-minute runtime.
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)