I learned an important lesson about film from Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Your opinion of a film is best expressed on two scales – whether it was a good movie and whether it was a movie you liked – and understanding the two are different is crucial to not sounding like an ass.
If a coworker who doesn’t spend every Wednesday at the comic book store asks me about Batman V Superman, I tell them it was bad. But ultimately, I did like it. And those are two different things.
Similarly I’ve realized that all my life there has been a third axis feeding into my opinion of film. One that is so rarely activated that I’d nearly forgotten its importance to my relationship with any and all art.
1. Is it good?
2. Did I like it?
3. Was there a shark?
Enter Shark Movie.
What to the director, producers, writers, cast, crew and audience is known as the new film The Shallows, is to me Shark Movie, a mantle that rears its head all too infrequently and is bestowed on a lineage of films for which the answer to that all important third question is a resounding “yes.”
Unfortunately, I found my answers to the other two, albeit less important, questions far more uncertain.
In Shark Movie, Blake Lively finds herself trapped 200 yards from shore on a rock that is rapidly giving way to high tide whilst a massive Great White shark circles her with anticipation.
The sparse plot should work in Shark Movie’s favor, keeping it simple rather than cramming it with pseudoscience ala Deep Blue Sea (a “maybe/yes/yes” production). But because there is so little fat in Shark Movie what little flourishes there were stood out and ultimately set my viewing of the film on a peculiar, dark path.
Shark Movie is a lesson in the importance cinematography plays in presenting characters. How you film a character teaches the audience how to look at that character. Blake Lively does a fantastic job in Shark Movie and proves to be one badass surfer and survivor, but that doesn’t stop Shark Movie’s camera from strategically framing her disrobing down to her bikini. A small grievance, I know, but it sets a tone early in the movie that, for me, snowballed into a meta-narrative with jaws the movie never managed to escape.
Shark Movie, like all Shark Movies, requires a certain fast and loose characterization of sharks as straight up murderers. Even with that suspension of disbelief in mind, Shark Movie presents us with an animal that ignores any and all pretense of instinct in favor of an odd, seemingly single-minded fascination with Blake Lively.
The reason Lively encounters the titular shark? She stumbles upon the corpse of a dead humpback whale. Her bad. Honest mistake. Solid setup for why a massive Great White is so close to shore. Why the Great White then seems to entirely ignore that voluptuous, literally whale-sized piece of meat in favor of a woman who might weigh two hundred pounds in a suit of armor, perplexed me throughout the movie and naturally set my movie-going mind jaunting about curiously for rationale.
A Great White that loses all interest in a veritable feast in favor of taunting one woman trapped on a rock feels like toothy, animal lust made flesh. It’s a dark subtext, but in a film with such a straightforward plot it’s one you really don’t have to dig all that deep to get too.
The shark circling Blake Lively isn’t interested in food, obviously, or it would be eating the humpback whale fifty yards away. So why is the shark so compelled to attack her? The film doesn’t give us too much else to work with, other than making absolutely sure we’re aware of when Blake Lively sheds down to her bikini and coming up with reason after reason to keep her out of her wetsuit. Intentionally or not, the shark in Shark Movie feels like a sexually aggressive antagonist, which makes for a particularly dark, creepy, unideal Shark Movie, one whose cinematography seems intent on sexualizing its protagonist to the detriment of the film as a whole. Maybe the metaphor is intentional. Maybe Shark Movie is supposed to be an observation on depictions of violence against women in media, but there’s little else in the film to suggest as much.
So, was there a shark in Shark Movie? You bet. And honestly, it looked dope as hell. But as sparse as this 87 minute movie is it could have used even more trimming. Somewhere deep down in its core, The Shallows is a pretty brilliant subversion of the opening sequence in Jaws. There was gold to be mined in them there hills, but the film doesn’t dig deep enough and gets distracted by hackneyed blockbuster language, ultimately winding up with a scrap of bronze still covered in dirt.
In short – maybe/maybe/yes.