Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard-earned dollar.

This week Blake Lively battles a blood-thirsty adversary beneath the waves of The Shallows.

The Shallows

It’s Ok … No Sharks Come Here

Reeling from her mother’s untimely death, Nancy (Lively) heads south of the border for some much-needed soul-searching. That means trekking to a secluded beach in Mexico and catching some serious waves. But the skilled surfer is not alone in the crystal blue waters. She soon finds herself stranded a mere 200 yards from shore and at the mercy of a blood-thirsty great white. Thus begins the white-knuckle survival tale that is The Shallows

The Shallows

Get Out of the Water!!!

Ok, let’s get this out of the way now – The Shallows owes a debt of gratitude to Jaws (1975). Really, it does. But not quite as much as you think. Once you get beyond the general motif of a great white out to feast on the flesh of man – and stylistic choices that result – The Shallows has little in common with that most classic of shark tales. In fact, Jaume Collet-Serra’s film manages to put a fresh spin on the ‘shark in the water’ genre.

That begins with Serra’s leading lady Blake Lively, who turns in one of the strongest performances of her career as the soul-searching surfer girl Nancy. Lively, who’s struggled to find her way in the choppy leading lady waters of Hollywood, finally finds a character that makes use of her brains as much as her glamour. More so, maybe. Lively spends much of the film battered, bruised, and bleeding on an exposed reef bed. Glamour is the farthest thing from her mind. Survival is all that matters.

Throughout, Lively peppers Nancy with an impeccable mix of wounded wit and instinctual intellect as she McGuyvers her way in and out of trouble. And she does it on her own for most of the film – not to undermine the noble work of Sully as her lone companion Steven Seagull. Coupled with a breezy but elegant turn in Woody Allen’s Cafe Society, Lively had a banner year in 2016. Whether you’re fan of the former Gossip Girl‘s work or not, it should be interesting to see where she goes from here.

The same can be said for Director Jaume Collet-Serra. Serra has toiled in the B-movie realm with A-list talent since his debut film House of Wax (2005). Most of his films since – Orphan (2009), Run All Night (2015) – felt like collections of set-pieces with a bare minimum of plot or character. The Shallows sees the director fully embrace that B-movie stigma. It sees him find just the right balance of style, plot, and character too.

He can thank Screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski for all that plot and character. Jaswinski’s script is tense, focused, and full of surprises. Most importantly, its central character is just developed enough to feel like a real person. At least enough that Lively can fill in the blanks. Style, on the other hand, is all Serra. From sun-bleached beaches to gnarly surfing action to blood-soaked wake, Serra keeps pulses pounding and the action unfolding at a perfectly steady clip. And he captures every second of Nancy’s oh-so miserable experience with an affection and grace unseen in his previous work. It makes for one hell of fun movie. And it’s almost enough to overlook the shortcomings of his fully CGI shark. Almost.   

The Shallows

Worth It?

You bet. Look, The Shallows is far from original. But what it lacks in originality it makes up for in spirit and ingenuity. The Shallows is frightening. It’s clever. At times, it’s brutal as hell. And it’s capable of holding your attention for every second of its 90-minute runtime. That’s more than most movies released in Summer 2016 could claim. It’s still true here at the beginning of winter. Judging from the weather patterns across the country this week, I’m betting a few of you are dreaming about a sunny trip to the beach. Even if this one turns into a nightmare.    

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