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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

When Bears Attack

The Revenant is a nonstop rollercoaster of survival. The story loosely follows the true life story of Hugh Glass. After his adoptive son is killed and he’s left for dead, Hugh Glass seeks revenge. Trying to survive every step of the way. The scenes of survival are so excessively violent and gore that you might want to avert your eyes. What makes the movie unique is its use of natural light. As well as the fact that it’s the movie that Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar for. He definitely suffered for it. The biggest stand out of The Revenant however, is the infamous “bear scene.” Which is both brutal and vicious. If you weren’t afraid of getting attacked by a bear before, you will be after that scene. Interestingly enough, I was also trying to survive while watching the movie. I had to pee very badly the entire 2 hours and 36 minutes. The Revenant is definitely the kind of movie that you only want to watch once. So make it count.


Hugh Glass getting attacked by a bear


Cast Away is captivating. Holding down an entire movie is no easy feat. Tom Hanks is the perfect actor to hire for the job. After watching Cast Away I can’t help but wonder if I could survive in a situation like this. It’s said that as a human, if your life is threatened in anyway, your survival instincts will kick in. So be grateful for the comfortable life that you have. Now as I’ve said previously, Cast Away is about a man who works for FedEx getting stranded on a deserted island. A large bulk of the movie takes place on the island and focuses solely on survival. Many people will remember it for Wilson the volleyball with a face. Who is perhaps the greatest inanimate object in film history. Cast Away keeps you invested beginning to end. Which is saying a lot for a movie that’s basically just a man yelling at a volleyball for 2 hours. See for yourself.

Cast Away

Chuck screams at Wilson (volleyball)