About a month ago I was trekking home from a dead-media hunting excursion when I happened upon a granny-esque abode with a LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY-style sidewalk-level basement window. Behind the glass stood a bird but not the type of bird you’d expect to see indoors. It wasn’t a colorful pet shop parakeet that escaped from its cage but more like a common sparrow that lost its way. As I paused in my tracks to stare, it turned around and disappeared behind ancient sun-bleached pom-pom trimmed curtains. It couldn’t belong there; something was off. It must have gotten trapped inside? I was compelled to knock on the front door to let the homeowner know but nobody answered…the place was as dead as a tomb. My bags were heavy so I vowed to come back later when hopefully lights would be on.
That bird was going to starve and the whole house would smell of death and worse of all this was a TERRIBLE OMEN of future catastrophe! I went back to the house a couple times but nobody was ever there. What could I do? Who do you call? Maybe I should just smash the window, run and hope for the best? How did this even happen when a closer inspection of the window revealed that it clearly had a screen? Did I imagine the bird (I don’t always hallucinate but when I do, I hallucinate animals in peril)? I began to rationalize and think, “Hey, isn’t it better to starve in a basement than to get eaten by a cat or hit by a car or freeze?” Maybe this bird was lucky. Also, I’m being a hypocrite; how dare I feign concern for this one bird when I’m likely to be chomping on a chicken in the very near future? What does one bird matter on this conveyor belt of ruin we call existence anyway?
The answer to that question is in THE SHALLOWS. Yes, this is still a film review! THE SHALLOWS is supposed to be about a surfer gal (BLAKE LIVELY) trying not to be eaten by a CGI shark but it’s actually about how facing your own demise can clarify your understanding that all life has value.
Let me tell you, there are some humans in this movie and there are a bunch of assorted sea creatures as well, but rising superstar SULLY SEAGULL (who portrays injured bird “Steven Seagull”) effortlessly waddles away with the whole darn show. When LIVELY’S character Nancy finds herself stranded on a rock in shark infested waters slowly frying to death all seems lost. Luckily, a felicitous twist of fate lands a sidekick-ready bird with a broken wing and a buoyant disposition upon the same precarious perch. The two develop a bond based on their mutual desire to eat lunch rather than be lunch and medical student Nancy even mends her new pal’s wing without any hope for financial gain (!!!). It’s as if Nancy is lost in a pitch-black cave and her basic humanity towards a creature more vulnerable than herself provides enough light for her to find her way out. Or maybe I just adore this seagull. He even gets a featured star picture on the back of the DVD! Right on!
I’m no oceanographer or seagull specialist but I feel safe in assuming that THE SHALLOWS plays fast and loose with anything regarding science and/or reality to the point of being borderline preposterous (especially in regards to how the menace is ultimately eradicated). I’m way OK with that though on account of it is gloriously pretty and borderline poetic in places and can therefore be digested as an expressionistic anxiety dream. The important thing is, no matter how over the top and unlikely it sometimes gets, THE SHALLOWS is consistently suspenseful and if you allow it, maybe even semi-deep (see what I did?). Plus it’s from director JUAME COLLET-SERRA who gave us HOUSE OF WAX (2005) and ORPHAN(2009) so it’s got that going on too. Right?
It’s possible I’m just an easy mark for this type of flick. It pretty much swims the same laps as survival favorites like BLACK WATER, THE REEF and both of the OPEN WATER jaunts and that’s fine by me. I certainly would have liked to have been able to connect with LIVELY’s opaque character a bit more but maybe that’s her fault for ignoring the age old advice on never working with animals or children. Anyway, there’s no resolution to my bird trapped in a basement window story that I started this post with. I’m going with the convenient (for me) theory that I imagined the whole thing (or more likely, caught a reflection in the glass?) while also vowing to spread breadcrumbs in the park for any possible bird relatives- just in case. The bitter truth though, whether it’s imagined or not- it’s still a BAD OMEN. Anyway, Sully, wherever you are, nice work! Hope to see you in a seagull-centered sequel!