2,000 Feet Up

Fall is not for anyone with a fear of heights. Like 47 Meters Down if the danger was reversed. Fall is an incredibly tense fight for survival on a 2,000 foot tall TV tower. The trailer hooked me the moment I saw it on the big screen with Where the Crawdads Sing. Ironically, I went to see both movies by myself. I had to face my own fear of driving to an unfamiliar theater since Fall was too independent for my usual theater. Fall is about facing fears, but the story doesn’t support the suspense.

DC alumni Grace Caroline Currey plays Becky and Marvel alumni Virginia Gardner plays her more adventurous best friend Hunter. They’re a pair of adrenaline seeking climbers who deal with the death of Becky’s husband Dan briefly played by Mason Gooding. Jeffrey Dean Morgan briefly plays Becky’s concerned father, but all of it is secondary to the climb. Like The Shallows, the girls offer plenty of intentional eye candy. My heart was racing the moment Becky and Hunter foolishly scale the fourth highest structure in the world. Then my heart stopped when their ladder breaks, leaving them stuck at the very top.

As a survival movie, Fall has the usual threats like dehydration, being in the middle of nowhere, no phone reception, injuries, and even hungry animals. It’s just different when they can’t go anywhere without falling. The bloodier their situation got, the more I questioned the PG-13 rating. Turns out Fall was rated R, but they actually used deepfake to dub all the F bombs. Becky and Hunter’s problems are predictable, but I definitely didn’t predict the disturbing twist. Fall is end of summer entertainment that should be seen on the biggest screen.

Fall

Becky almost falls

Fear Runs Deep

47 Meters Down: Uncaged is the same danger, but an entirely different cast. This time it’s a group of four teenage girls who go diving in Mexico and get attacked by sharks. The only similarity is having sisters as the primary survivors. Sophie Nélisse is the bullied Mia and Corinne Foxx is the more popular Sasha. Nia Long and John Corbett play their parents in a blended family that’s slightly more interesting for me.

Before Stargirl, Brec Bassinger played a mean girl who bullies Mia. Brianne Tju is their diving experienced friend Alexa and Sistine Stallone is their overeggar friend Nicole. This was actually the first film for Jamie Foxx and Sylvester Stallone’s daughters. Mia, Sasha, Alexa, and Nicole go diving to find an ancient Mayan city. It’s a lot easier to lose track of the girls since there are four characters to keep track of. Although more characters just means more shark food.

Sharks pop out of complete darkness and they have to deal with the usual problems like oxygen loss. Along with new problems like strong currents and being lost. Though Uncaged lacks the bite to end with a twist like the first movie. Instead Mia and Sasha actually fight off sharks with bloody injuries. 47 Meters Down: Uncaged has enough blood in the water to attract fans of the original movie.

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A shark comes towards Mia and Sasha

Preceded by: 47 Meters Down

In the Deep

47 Meters Down is literally the deepest shark attack movie I’ve seen. It follows two sisters vacationing in Mexico who find themselves caught in a life or death struggle with sharks. Admittedly, the premise is very similar to The Shallows released just one year before. Killer shark movies are surprisingly common, but it’s the survival aspect that’s similar. Claire Holt is the more adventurous Kate and Mandy Moore is the more cautious Lisa.

A couple of locals convince them to see sharks in a diving cage. Something I would never do, since everything goes wrong when the cable breaks and their cage plunges 47 meters down. It’s a terrifying situation full of dangers like oxygen loss, potential hallucinations, being unable to swim without decompression, and having several hungry sharks swimming around. The only person who can help them is the comforting voice of Matthew Modine.

The sisters don’t have the most interesting problems, but I was still wondering how they’d get out of the situation alive. They’re almost rescued once when the spare cable breaks and they plunge back down. The ending turns Lisa into the brave one who saves her sister and fights off sharks with flares, but there are several clues that lead to a shocking twist. 47 Meters Down is a quick undemanding 85 minute fight for survival.

47 Meters Down

Kate and Lisa in a cage with a shark

Followed by: 47 Meters Down: Uncaged

Dueling Banjos

Deliverance is a story of survival I only knew by reputation alone. R rated films were already well established by 1972, but they were no less shocking to viewers at the time. Since the intense 1970 novel maintained its author James Dickey as a screenwriter. I avoided Deliverance for years with the limited knowledge that it involved banjos and hillbillies. As boundary pushing as it was, Deliverance was still an Oscar nominated hit with a soon-to-be all-star cast. Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds already made an impression, but Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox were just getting started.

Every actor is on equal footing as a group of city folk who take a male bounding canoe trip in the great outdoors. Lewis is the more experienced macho leader, Ed is less confident, Buddy complains the most, and Drew would rather play his banjo. Their trip starts off well with the iconic “Dueling Banjos” scene between Drew and a backwoods boy. The song puts you in a good mood before the terror sinks in. As the four men journey down the river, Ed and Buddy encounter a couple of malicious mountain men.

The most difficult scene to get through involves Buddy being sexually assaulted and forced to “Squeal like a pig.” It only gets worse from there when the men argue over whether to cover up the incident. They face intense rapids, drowning, life threatening injuries, and the remaining mountain man in a desperate attempt to survive. Director John Boorman maintains a realistic feel by having the actors perform stunts themselves. Even their trauma is explored where most movies would leave out the aftermath. Deliverance lures you in and never lets go.

Deliverance

Drew plays with a banjo boy

Death Bed

Gerald’s Game is the successful result of a Stephen King novel once thought unfilmable. Although published in 1992, it took until 2017 for Netflix to figure out this intense story of survival. Director Mike Flanagan already made the similar horror movie Hush as something of a warm up. Both movies take place in one secluded location where a woman fights to overcome a desperate situation. Gerald’s Game has a particularly terrifying concept that only Stephen King could come up with.

Jessie is the wife of wealthy older man Gerald Burlingame. To rekindle their failing marriage, Gerald takes Jessie to an isolated lake house where he plans a kinky “game” that results in her being handcuffed to a bed. When he goes too far, Gerald suffers a fatal heart attack that leaves her with no way of escape. It was unfilmable since the entire movie now hinges on one performance. Fortunately Carla Gugino delivers what I think is the best performance of her career. Like all horrifying survival stories, the situation goes from bad to worse.

Since the door was left open, a hungry stray dog wanders in and ends up doing something disgusting. When dehydration sinks in, she has to find a way to get the water left on the shelf behind her. Bruce Greenwood is just as effective as Gerald when Jessie begins to hallucinate him taunting her. Triggering a disturbing memory with her father during a solar eclipse that she has to come to terms with. Even that isn’t the worst of it when another dark figure shows up. Much like 127 Hours, the circumstances of Jessie’s escape are extremely difficult to watch. Gerald’s Game is gut-wrenching horror that hits close to home.

Gerald's Game

Jessie cuffed to a bed

Shark Island

The Shallows is one of the best shark attack movies not named Jaws. I genuinely didn’t know what to expect from a survival movie like this. Shark attacks had been done so many times and it’s always tricky to pull off a great lone star movie. I also hadn’t seen Blake Lively in enough to know whether she could pull off a role like this. My mom was actually the one who recommended The Shallows. After seeing it on TV and calling it one of the best survival movies she’s seen.

The Shallows was a summer success and that was enough for me. I do appreciate the fact that Blake Lively had an acclaimed film the same year as her husband. The Shallows has the simple premise of a medical student named Nancy going surfing in a special, if secluded beach paradise. The location is beautiful and seeing Blake Lively in a bikini is an added bonus. But a tropical paradise can quickly become a nightmare. As a great white shark attacks the shallow water.

Resulting in Nancy injuring her leg, locals being devoured, and the shark staying close by due to a whale carcass. Leading to a nail biting fight for survival where Nancy has to put her medical training to work and use what little she brought with her. Fortunately a scene stealing injured seagull keeps her company. The final face off is an intense blood in the water fight to the death that makes the whole ordeal worth it. The Shallows is far from your typical creature feature.

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Nancy is stalked by a shark

Tiger Boat

Life of Pi is a breathtaking story of survival backed up by even more breathtaking visuals. Life of Pi is Ang Lee’s first CGI heavy movie since the disastrous Hulk. So I wasn’t too certain how it would end up. All that changed when I saw the final product. Life of Pi takes place primarily on a boat that the titular Indian boy Pi has to share with a Bengal tiger. The movie is told from the point of view of an older Pi who tells his improbable story to the novelist Yann Martel (the real life author of the fictional tale). It starts with Pi’s childhood, his family life, and his introduction to Christianity. Then he ends up in a terrible freighter accident that leaves him stranded on a life boat. What I didn’t realise was that there are more animals present then just the tiger. They just don’t live as long as he does. You may be wondering how someone can survive on a boat with a man-eating tiger? Well Pi actually uses a small makeshift raft for most of his journey. In the end, it’s never made clear whether Pi’s fantastical story of flying fish and carnivorous islands is true or not. Life of Pi has some of the most beautiful lifelike effects I’ve ever seen. The tiger looks so real that it might very well convince you it is. The same can be said for the water. Life of Pi truly deserves all the acclaim and awards attention its gotten.

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Pi (human) on a boat with Richard Parker (tiger)

There’s a Starman Waiting in the Sky

The Martian, the comedy event of 2015. Not really, but that’s where the debate comes in. The Martian is about an astronaut who gets accidentally stranded on Mars. When I first heard of The Martian I thought this seemed like a pretty interesting idea. Would a person actually manage to survive on the planet Mars? This is why I think Martian colonies are a bad idea. The Martian keeps things entertaining with a great performance by Matt Damon. He’s the one who supplies the movie with most of its “comedy.” His role is suspiciously similar to the one he did one year before in Interstellar. There’s also a huge ensemble of actors who also make the movie great. The main theme of the movie is how humanity comes together when someone is in trouble. All nations unite to bring Mark Watney home. There was a big debate about whether or not The Martian counts as a comedy. It’s about survival, so it can get pretty dramatic. Then again, there are a lot of jokes that keep it light. I guess the question is, is a movie with a lot of jokes a comedy? Whatever you think, The Martian is another well made movie about space exploration.

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Mark Watney sits alone on Mars

Falling Up

Gravity is a seriously terrifying situation. Gravity takes place in space, stars only Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and is only an hour and 30 minutes long. Gravity caught all our attention when we saw the first trailer. The idea of hopelessly floating through space sounds horrible. Its sort of similar to being afraid of heights. Gravity succeeds with impressive visuals. If I could make a list of movies I wish I saw on the big screen, Gravity would be at the top of the list. You have to watch it on a big screen. I wasn’t too sure about the movie, because I knew Sandra Bullock would be carrying the whole movie. I know she’s a terrific actress, but this seemed like a strange choice. Of course she kills the role. Gravity is a very tightly packaged story. By the end, Gravity accomplishes everything it’s trying to accomplish. So don’t expect much of earth. That’s not the point. Expect to be on the edge of your seat at all times, staring in awe at the breathtaking visuals.

Gravity

Dr. Ryan Stone floats through the endless vacuum of space

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

127 Hours is the true story of one man’s fight for survival. In 2003, Aron Ralston’s arm became lodged between a boulder after attempting to climb down a canyon. Eventually he had to cut off his own arm in order to survive. This is the subject of the 2010 movie 127 Hours based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place. When I first heard of this movie I was skeptical. James Franco is pretty much the only actor in the whole movie for about an hour. Since I only knew Franco for less than serious roles, I wasn’t sure what to think. But he totally nails it. Even going through long periods without dialogue doing nothing but expressing emotions. From attempting to entertain himself to losing all hope of survival. When it finally gets to the “amputation scene” (I’m not gonna lie) it feels extremely realistic. I was practically watching through my hands and I’m not usually one to shy away from blood. 127 Hours has a story to tell, and it tells it very well.

127 Hours

Aron Ralston trapped between a rock and a hard place