The Shallows (3 stars)

The Shallows

A terrific performance from Blake Lively brings surprising depth to this summer thriller about a woman battling a giant shark

In The Shallows, Blake Lively headlines the perfect summer thriller for those who don't want anything too logical or serious but who still would like to grab the arm of the person next to them. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, Unknown, Non-Stop) is a master of the predictive shock; that you know it's coming and when is part of the thrill. He squeezes all the horror mileage out of the simple setup of a woman trapped on a rock in the middle of a bay by a shark the size of an Eddie Stobart lorry.

Despite its premise, this is not just schlock; it's also made with a lot of skill. Nancy dropped out of medical school before hitching to an isolated Mexican beach that's without a name to protect its virgin appeal. Friendly (and not so friendly) locals add to the tension and release as Nancy swims out to a big thing in the ocean and finds its a rotting whale shark banquet. Thank heavens for a tiny rock the shark can't reach. Never mind that bleeding leg wound – med school, anybody? – Nancy has to use all her wits to survive. Luckily, she doesn't need food or water, nor does she burn in the direct Mexican sun.

It's your basic 'one beautiful location' thriller with the extra twists of near rescues. It works as a wham-bam thriller because we care about Nancy – and not just that she looks great in half a wetsuit. The pace is skillful and the moderated emotional moments poke you in the gut at just the right time. It's a stellar role for Lively, who, like Margot Robbie, is amassing a respectable body of work across genres. She plays Nancy as a woman who never loses her compassion. We need more heroes like her.

Wide release from Fri 12 Aug.

The Shallows

  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 1h 26min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
  • Cast: Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen, Sedona Legge
  • UK release: 12 August 2016

Surfer Nancy (Lively) is enjoying the waves on an isolated Mexican beach when she's menaced by a great white shark. Skilful plotting and pacing, and a terrific performance from Lively, make this an unusually gripping and moving summer thriller.