Shark tale: The Shallows is a horror with plenty of bite
The Shallows (15, 86 mins) Thriller/Action/Horror.
Starring: Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen, Sedona Legge, Angelo Jose Lozano Corzo, Jose Manuel Trujillo Salas, Janelle Bailey. Director: Jaume Collet-Serra.
Rating: three stars
JUST when you thought it was safe to head back into the water, Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra shreds nerves and nubile flesh using one of cinema's most ferocious and enduring villains: the great white shark.
The Shallows thrashes about in the wake of Jaws and its B-movie imitators, heightening tension by focusing on the efforts of one character to evade a voracious fish that has been drawn into a beautiful Mexican bay.
This less-is-more approach adopted by screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski delivers plentiful edge-of-seat scares and affords the film some unexpected humour as the stricken heroine befriends an injured bird, which she christens Steven Seagull.
From the opening scenes of a young boy discovering an underwater camera containing footage of the shark in a blood-fuelled frenzy, Collet-Serra's film is a hoot.
Adrenaline-fuelled chases in the water are nail-biting, and briskly edited to ensure audiences cover their eyes as legs dangle tantalisingly in the water, waiting to be chomped.
The sun-kissed pins in question belong to Nancy Adams (Blake Lively), who has recently dropped out of medical school following the death of her mother (Janelle Bailey).
Nancy heads to the same secret beach in Mexico, where her pregnant mum surfed before she was born.
A kind local called Carlos (Oscar Jaenada) drives the American visitor through dense undergrowth to the remote location, where she takes a video call from her sister Chloe (Sedona Legge) and father (Brett Cullen) before donning her wet suit.
Two surfer dudes (Angelo Jose Lozano Corzo, Jose Manuel Trujillo Salas) are already in the water and they flank Nancy as she navigates fast-moving waves on her board.
As the young men depart, Nancy inadvertently strays close to the floating carcass of a humpback whale, which has been attacked by a shark.
Alert to the danger, Nancy hurriedly paddles back to shore but the shark attacks and sinks its jaws into her leg.
She clambers onto the lifeless whale as the creature circles.
Her only option is to swim to a rocky outcrop that has been exposed by the tide.
"Thirty to forty yards... a minute's swim. I can make that," Nancy tells herself.
The Shallows is buoyed by an assured performance from Lively.
She is on camera for almost the entire film and tugs heartstrings as Nancy records a video message for her loved ones, telling them she intends to fight for survival until her dying breath.
There's nothing here we haven't seen before, including the initial tease of impending disaster when the heroine stares serenely at the shimmering bay and asks a local, "Anything gnarly I should know about?"
However, predictability doesn't detract from the whoop-inducing thrill ride that Collet-Serra has constructed for us here.
Prepare to be glistening with sweat by the end credits.