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Poor ending kills otherwise decent shark thriller 'The Shallows'
Nancy (Blake Lively) in The Shallows." - photo by Josh Terry
THE SHALLOWS 2 stars Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen, Sedona Legge; PG-13 (bloody images, intense sequences of peril, and brief strong language); in general release

Its a lot easier to create a problem than to solve one. Thats the fatal flaw of The Shallows, a well-intended thriller that stumbles across the finish line.

The Shallows is the latest in a long tradition of lone-survivor-in-distress films, such as Castaway, Gravity and last years The Martian. Comparisons to Jaws will be inevitable, as The Shallows essentially posits what might have happened if that poor girl in the opening reel would have survived the shark attack and climbed onto the buoy.

But closest cousin of The Shallows may be 2013s All is Lost, a film that stranded Robert Redford all by himself in the middle of the ocean on a sinking boat. The Shallows features sharper teeth and a similar problem-solving plot, but All is Lost told a better story.

Then again, many audiences will prefer to watch actress Blake Lively on the big screen for an hour and a half. Lively plays Nancy, a med student who has chosen to spend her quarter-life crisis on a mysterious beach in Mexico. The beach which the locals refuse to name was a favorite location of Nancys mother back before she died of cancer, making her surfing trip a bit of a pilgrimage.

Things start off innocently enough as Nancy catches waves with a couple of local surfing enthusiasts. But when she investigates a dead whale floating several hundred yards out, Nancy is attacked by a shark. Somehow she is able to get to a group of nearby rocks, and The Shallows becomes a cat and mouse game between Nancy and the shark.

There are other issues. For one, she has a nasty bite on her thigh. Her medical training will come in handy here. But shes still bleeding into the water, which further complicates things, and even when she spots other people on the shore such as a passed-out drunk with questionable ethics every glimmer of hope seems to get snuffed out in a wash of sharp teeth and gushing blood. Tack on a rising tide that will turn her makeshift island into a serving tray, and the shark seems to be operating at an unfair advantage.

For a shark-based horror movie, The Shallows provides a few jumps, but nothing approaching its superior predecessors. Its beautifully shot, and the early surfing sequences feel like an extreme sports highlight reel. And for a movie about a stranded attractive woman in a bikini, its pretty restrained in the objectification department.

Speaking of restrained, The Shallows comes in with a PG-13 rating, and clearly could have been a lot more graphic in its content. But its still not a film for the squeamish, mostly thanks to Nancys primitive first aid efforts.

The Shallows will also feel quite dated in a few years, thanks to a heavy reliance on smartphones and texting to establish some communication with Nancy and her family back home. The multi-shot technique employed by director Jaume Collet-Serra gets the job done, but often feels a bit too gimmicky.

But if all you are looking for is a simple thriller carried by a quality actress, The Shallows features just enough depth to keep you interested, even if its ending will leave the audience's eyes rolling right out the theater doors. There are much worse horror movies out there, but as anyone who has seen a shark movie since 1975 can tell you, there are a whole lot better too.

The Shallows is rated PG-13 for bloody images, intense sequences of peril and brief strong language; running time: 87 minutes.
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