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Safety and security are often illusory things. We can feel safe in our homes or in our cars, but any number of outside forces can act upon them at a moment’s notice, giving us little to no warning they’re about to happen. Nature in particular is a magnificent, terrifying force that almost always has “bye, people” as its end goal. Extreme weather, animals, most anything in the general environment…none of it is designed for the long term sustainability of the human population. While we rightly try to make our cars safer, enact common sense handgun legislation and more to stop us from killing each other, there’s little we can do to curb the instincts and proclivities of the natural world around us. Meet a lion outside a zoo and things get real fast.

Safety is the primary theme, it seems, of the new movie The Shallows. Blake Lively stars as Nancy, a young woman who’s on vacation to a magnificent surfing location. While she’s out surfing she’s hit by a great white shark and stranded on a coral reef just 200 yards from shore and absolute safety from the shark. But getting there is next to impossible as the shark continues to circle the reef, waiting for its opportunity to get her. As good a swimmer as Nancy is, the shark is better. So it becomes a test to see whether she can outsmart one of nature’s apex predators and find her way back to dry land.

The Posters

shallowsThe first poster is meant to not only create a sense of terror and convey the overall story idea but also clearly to evoke one of movie history’s greatest shark attack movies. So the camera’s perspective is from below looking up toward the surface of the water, with a surfboard and a pair of legs dangled over it being the only things visible against the sunlight. The copy toward the bottom says “What was once in the deep is now in the shallows.”

That copy is a little heavy handed – it makes it sound like a sci-fi monster story along the lines of Pacific Rim or Cloverfield – but I get what they’re going for, that somewhere that seemed safe is no longer. But it’s great how the perspective of the camera is what primarily conveys the threat Nancy faces.

The next poster shows Lively in her bikini and holding a flare gun looking down toward the water as if she’s anticipating danger That danger is lurking behind her, where we see a massive dorsal fin breaking through the water. The copy above her reads “Not just another day at the beach,” which is clever but a massive understatement.

The Trailers

The first trailer sells a movie that’s light on dialogue but high on tension. Starting off with a shot of a small outcropping of rocks just off an island, we hear screams of “Help me!” whenever the camera dips below the waves. Eventually we see a young woman show’s stuck on that rock and who obviously wants to get to the island itself. What’s in her way? The massive shark that’s circling her and which will surely attack if she gets in the water.

There’s nothing about the rest of the story here and it kind of looks like it could be this year’s All Is Lost, with little dialogue but lots of characterization. I’m sure there’s lots of the movie that’s not being shown here but this first trailer sets up an intriguing story.

The first full-length trailer gave us more of the backstory as to what happens. We see Nancy is on some sort of exotic vacation, calling her younger sister so we know she has something to live for. But as she’s surfing she’s suddenly pulled under by a shark and barely makes it to a reef, at which point she sees the two guys who are also surfing and who she blew off earlier get flat-out eaten by the beast. The rest of the trailer is about her planning how to stay alive and make it to shore – or at least someone safe – when there’s a massive great white shark prowling the water just waiting for her.

It’s…yikes. While the trailer certainly takes pleasure in scaring us with the appearances of the shark – the shot of it jumping out of the water to take out that one dude is insane – it also focuses on Lively’s performance. She’s asked to do a lot here and based on the trailer it looks like the movie never loses sight of focusing on her character and the struggle to get to safety.

The second trailer spends most of its time on setup as we see Lively’s character getting ready to go surfing while we hear narration that’s pulled from an old filmstrip type self-help speech on self-reliance. Eventually we get shots of the shark attacking, leading to her being stranded on the outcropping.

It’s a neat conceit here with the narration. You still get a good sense of what the story is about – woman goes surfing, is attacked by shark, has to survive – but it’s presented a little sideways but without any sort of emotional impact.

Online and Social

Load the official website and the first trailer plays. After that’s finished the main site content loads, with the central feature being the chance to enter a sweeps to win a beach vacation because sure, why not?

The first section of actual content is “About,” which just has a short story synopsis. After that is the “Cast & Crew” section that has a list of the behind-the-scenes filmmakers and, which it comes to the actors, just lists Lively. There’s no bio information, though, or link elsewhere.

the shallows pic 2

“Video” just has the one trailer we already saw and the “Gallery” is kind of weak, with just two stills you can’t download or otherwise share.

The movie’s Facebook page has the trailers and other videos along with promotional and countdown images along with short cinegraphs and more, as well as links to some of the press for the movie. Same kind of stuff can be found on Twitter and both profiles also include links to recent news items about shark populations, something that seems a bit tacky. Instagram just has those same images and short videos we’ve seen elsewhere.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There were some TV spots run (all the ones I could find were on Sony Pictures Canada’s account, so that for what you will) that all play up the angle of the attack only being the beginning, which is a common found throughout the campaign. Some, like the one linked here, show there’s some element of the story that takes place more significantly on land, but this may be just a way to create some tension in a 30 second spot and isn’t representative of the actual story as it plays out. But they’re all taut and make it clear you’re in for a riveting couple hours as you watch a survival story.

Online ads used key art and motion video from the trailers along with the same copy points we’ve seen on the site, posters and elsewhere.

Media and Publicity

Early on in the publicity cycle, shortly after the release of the trailer, Lively spoke briefly about how her husband Ryan Reynolds’ role in Buried inspired her to take on a unique, physically challenging movie like this. After that the next major press was when some new stills from the movie debuted in EW’s Summer Movie Preview issue.

the shallows pic 1

Lively, as the sole star, formed most of the press push, doing the rounds of the daytime and evening talk shows to talk about the movie. She also got a nice spread in Marie Claire to do the same thing as well as her life and career in general.

Most of the rest of the press coverage came from the release of clips and other marketing materials.

Overall

A confession: When I first heard “Blake Lively fends off a shark attack” my interest was somewhere around nil. But that first trailer…wow…all of a sudden I was completely on board. Since then there’s been a good amount of consistency to the campaign as it keeps hitting that theme mentioned before about how the attack is only the start of the story. That tells the audience that this isn’t just a “hunting shark” movie but one that deals with the after effects of such an attack.

The whole campaign, as the movie seems to be, is anchored of course by Lively, who gives a performance that might wind up being compared to Robert Redford’s in All is Lost a few years ago. That movie featured a single man up against the violent power of nature’s elements, just like this one and I see a lot of the same elements in play. Lively’s Nancy seems to talk more than Redford’s character did, but it’s the same basic idea. If she can bring the goods and create a real sense of tension for the audience in a manner that’s similar to what the trailers and TV spots provide, this could be a real treat.