Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Shallows (4 Stars)

Nancy Adams was studying medicine. When her mother died of cancer she decided that medicine is useless and she dropped out of university. She travelled alone to the beach in Mexico where her mother first found out that she was pregnant. She spent the day swimming and surfing on the giant waves.

Nancy soon realises that there's a shark in the water. It's too far to return to the beach, so she swims to a small rock jutting out of the water. As the day turns to night and the night turns to day she realises that she's trapped, unable to escape because the shark is circling her, waiting for a chance to snatch her.

This is a minimalist film with only a shred of a plot. The strength is in the film's atmosphere. Especially the final scenes in the film, as the evening high tide threatens to submerge the rock, are pure terror.

Maybe the film is scarier for me than for most people. As a child I never learnt how to swim. It wasn't for lack of trying. In junior school there were weekly swimming lessons. In senior school, when I was 11, there was also swimming once a week, mostly used for water polo, but my teacher ignored me, allowing me to hang onto the side and watch the rest of the class. That changed when I was 14. There was a new teacher who was convinced that everyone can swim. There were three boys in my class who couldn't swim, me and two others, and the teacher concentrated all his efforts on us. First one boy learnt how to swim; then the second; at the end of the school year I was the only boy in my class who still couldn't swim. In the next school year the teacher ignored me, like the previous teacher, realising that I could never swim. And then when I was in sixth form (age 16) swimming was optional, so I wasn't forced into the water any more.

Nothing happened for about 20 years. Then my children began to swim. My wife urged me to learn how to swim so that I could go to the swimming baths with them. I believe that my sons were 8 and 5 years old at the time. I was reluctant at first, but my wife could be very persuasive. I began lessons with a swimming instructor that I had to pay for. He was very patient with me. He needed to be. He was older than me, over 60, but he was a powerful swimmer. It amazed me that he could glide so fast in the water while hardly moving his arms or legs. I also thought to myself, "If that old man can swim so easily why can't I?" Eventually, after a few months of practice, I was able to swim a whole length of the swimming baths. Then two lengths. I never managed three lengths at a time, it was too exhausting, but I felt I had achieved something.

I rarely go swimming nowadays, but I know I can swim. Short distances, at least. I'm not a strong swimmer. I can swim in a swimming pool, but I could never swim in the ocean. Being in the open water like Nancy would terrify me, even without a shark. It would be suicide for me to even attempt it. Water is a foreign element to me. I don't belong there.

"The Shallows" is a good film. Maybe not perfect. I found it annoying when Nancy spent time talking to herself, because it was obvious she was only doing it to explain to the viewers what she was doing. It seemed unnatural. There must have been another way to explain things with a better script and better directing.

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