With a simple premise and plenty of visual style, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) takes the audience on a terrifying odyssey involving a lone woman and a menacing shark. What emerges is a gruelling one-woman show, as Blake Lively throws herself into a ferocious cat and mouse game that's relentlessly suspenseful.
She plays Nancy, a young medical school drop-out on a pilgrimage to a mythical beach her mother told her about before dying of cancer. So she has very personal reasons to visit it. And with the help of nice-guy guide Carlos (Oscar Jaenada), she finds it on a remote stretch of Mexico's coastline. After video chatting with her father and sister (Brett Cullen and Sedona Legge), she paddles out to join a couple of local surfers. Then when she decides to stay for one last wave on her own, the great white pounces. Injured and alone, she takes refuge on a tiny rock that will disappear when the tide rises. And in order to survive, she'll have to get creative.
Shot in Australia, the film is carefully assembled to ratchet up the intensity right from the start. Collet-Serra gleefully stirs in plenty of creepy Jaws-like insinuation, hinting at what's coming long before he reveals the enormous single-minded shark. The combination of digital effects and rubbery models never quite looks real, but the film is so sharply well-made that we never mind. And besides, Lively does a great job at convincing us that she's in proper peril. This is a full-bodied performance, so grounded and authentic that Lively is able to take the audience through the ordeal right with Nancy. Her experience in the water is bolstered through visions and flashbacks that add a surprising emotions. And her banter with Carlos offers some insight into her feisty personality.
Continue reading: The Shallows Review
Also based on the first in a trilogy of post-apocalyptic teen novels, this thriller feels like it could be a worthy successor to The Hunger Games saga, with its smart story and strong characters. The premise feels remarkably grounded, as it follows a feisty teen while her world is turned upside down by an alien invasion. And Chloe Grace Moretz gives one of her most complex performances to date as a quick, flawed heroine.
The title refers to the stages of invasion, as unseen aliens quietly take over the planet. And then not so quietly. Most of humanity has been killed by disasters or disease, with the survivors waiting for whatever the next wave of attack might be. Before this, Cassie (Moretz) was a normal 16-year-old with a crush on the cute Ben (Nick Robinson). Now she's running for her life, trying to rescue her little brother Sam (Zackary Arthur), who has been whisked to safety by the gung-ho Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber) and his military resistance. Along the way, she meets farm boy Evan (Alex Roe), whom she reluctantly trusts mainly because he's such a hunk. Meanwhile, Ben finds himself in Sam's unit in the newly formed child's army Vosch is training to hunt down aliens who have taken human form.
Director Blakeson keeps the pace brisk without rushing past important details. This makes what happens feel unusually believable, and it also allows the actors to add personal touches to their performances. Moretz finds Cassie's innate courage and quick physicality, but nicely balances it with her impulsive decisions and adolescent self-doubt. As in most of these movies, she has to be in a love triangle, but her scenes with both Robinson and Roe offer something a bit more intriguing, mainly because both actors have surprises up their sleeves. There's also a fourth person in this relationship in the form of Maika Monroe's tough-girl fighter Ringer, perhaps the most intriguing character on-screen.
Continue reading: The 5th Wave Review
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