Tag: johannes roberts

47 Meters Down: Uncaged

47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

“47 Meters Down: Uncaged” is not unlike its predecessor in that attempting to survive a series of grizzly shark attacks is an indirect way of solving a personal crisis on land. Specifically, stepsisters Mia (Sophie Nélisse) and Sasha (Corinne Foxx) not only do not get along, they do not consider each other as sisters. This is established during the opening scene in which the former is bullied by schoolmates and the latter chooses to stand by with her friends in silence. Most of us will recognize immediately the story’s ultimate destination and so the journey there must be strong. On a few levels, it delivers. But it leaves plenty to be desired as a potent survival horror.

The movie is beautifully photographed, particularly the early underwater scenes that take place in the ancient Mayan city. Because the caves are unexplored for the most part, there is a certain creepiness in the solemn statues and obelisks, how corridors tend to get narrower the deeper one gets into the labyrinthine city. We even get to lay eyes on the catacombs, skeletons undisturbed for many decades. There is a sense of wonder and claustrophobia in these sequences which suggest that some thought and genuine care is put into picture instead of rehashing the same old scenario as the predecessor. It is apparent that this is not just a movie composed of jump scares involving sharks. Johannes Roberts co-writes (along with Ernest Riera) and directs both works; I detected a certain pride in making the work as good a genre piece can be.

But the characterization is a significant shortcoming. Aside from the superficial conflict between Mia and Sasha, we are never provided a genuine sense that they are family even during the later scenes when they finally learn to have each other’s backs. Perhaps it has something to do with the script, the fact that it never bothers to pause, to breathe, to allow its main players to connect. Once the scuba diving gear is on, it is all business—wonderful in theory if the material could find surprises, big and small, on a consistent basis. The work is fond of the following formula: new area to be explored, shark attack, panic and splashing about, escape. Once in a while an inconsequential character gets eaten (some gnarly deaths).

It should have taken a page from Jaume Collet-Serra’s “The Shallows.” In that film, although the script is barebones, it is so efficient in allowing the audience to understand how its character recognizes a problem and finds solutions. She is smart and resourceful. Early on in “Uncaged,” it is acknowledged that Mia is an experienced scuba diver. It is so disappointing that when the chips are down and the pressure is up, she, like the others, ends up panicking and screaming as if oxygen tanks would not run out of air. The previous “47 Meters Down” makes a point not to scream, breathe, or panic so much because every movement uses up oxygen. This fact is not brought up even once in this sequel. It’s Survival 101.

Is it unrealistic? A resounding “Yes!” But I enjoyed it enough, particularly the twist regarding the sharks. Since these creatures have been living in these caves for so long, surely they must have acquired abilities that typical sharks do not possess. Had there been a bit more research during the screenwriting stage, the level of creativity would have surged. Perhaps the characters struggling to survive against these sharks would have been forced to become more resourceful.

47 Meters Down

47 Meters Down (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Occasionally unintentionally funny, shark attack picture “47 Meters Down” offers a good time for those simply wishing to turn their brains off and watch a pair of American tourists attempting to avoid becoming fish food prior to being rescued. With a short running time of less than ninety minutes, it provides enough solid suspenseful moments and thrills even though it delivers exactly what is expected out of the sub-genre. In a movie like this, either one slowly pulls one’s limbs closer to one’s torso or one is bored by the usual beats.

The picture might have been improved upon had the screenplay by Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera amplified the competition or tension between otherwise close sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt). There is a wonderful exchange, when both are forty-seven meters at the bottom of the sea, when Lisa admits to Kate that she often feels not good enough when they are compared side-by-side. Lisa is the elder, boring sister while Kate is the more exciting of the duo, one who gets the attention of all the boys without effort. Although a terrifying situation bringing people closer than ever is a standard move, it might have paved the way for deeper character development. Both Lisa and Kate are likable.

The shark attacks are swift, commanding a sense of urgency in an enclosed space or otherwise. Similar films tend to excel at one or the other. I enjoyed it most when either sibling decides to get out of the cage either to get signal for the transmitter so they can call for help or acquire a critical item for survival. One cannot help but to squint a little harder at the background due the possibility of the shark appearing right behind the heroine. At times certain familiar camera angles are utilized to create false alarms and we exhale from relief. But comfortable moments do not last long.

I found it rather impressive that the leads must act underwater for more than half the picture. Since their faces are covered with oxygen masks, they must express their emotions in other ways, such as employing body languages that are exactly right for the situation—while swimming—and providing a balance between subtlety and exaggeration in voice acting. More observant viewers will recognize these difficulties or challenges while others may simply ignore them altogether because it is a shark movie and it is supposedly all about the buckets of blood and body count.

“47 Meters Down,” directed by Johannes Roberts, provides a daring ending that is certain to divide viewers. Although it takes some scientific liberties, I enjoyed that it is willing to provide final ten minutes that is different, darkly comic, with a whiff of irony. Awful films within the sub-genre simply end in silence with no survivor, blood painting the screen red.

The Other Side of the Door

The Other Side of the Door (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Modern supernatural horror movies verge on comedy these days because many of the visuals end up looking so computerized, so fake, so cheap-looking, we are immediately taken out of what could be terrifying experiences. For a while, “The Other Side of the Door,” written by Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera, shows signs of becoming a solid horror flick because the premise genuinely intrigues but soon it proves to be cursed just like its contemporaries. When black eyes, veiny skin, and green leaves turning brown in mere seconds are shown, cue the eye-rolling.

In deep mourning and feeling crippling guilt due to her young son’s death, Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies) takes a whole bottle of pills and goes to sleep. Her husband (Jeremy Sisto) gets to her just in time, calls for help, and saves her life. Their housekeeper, Piki (Suchitra Pillai), feels she can help Maria to move on and so she suggests that the mother take the train to her village, walk deep in the woods, enter a temple, and lock herself inside throughout the night—a place where Piki’s people believe that the line between life and death is so thin, the living and the dead are able to communicate with one another.

Perhaps if Maria had a chance to say goodbye to her son, she could continue to live her life. However, Piki warns Maria that no matter what happens, once the communication has started, the door must not be opened until sunrise.

The foreign setting contributes significantly to the spooky atmosphere and continuously increasing tension. The story takes place in India and there is an authentic look and feel to the casting, the extras, the clothes, the outdoor markets, and the establishing mythos. When Piki talks about what her culture believes in and what rules must be followed, the camera focuses on the performer’s face indicating that we must hang onto her every word and intonation. At one point or another, she is our compass.

There is only one flashback and it is utilized effectively. Surprisingly emotional, it points to the roots of why Maria blames herself for Oliver’s death. It is quite uncommon in horror pictures to show such an emotionally charged, human scene in which just about everyone are likely able to empathize with those involved. It reminds us that superior horror flicks tend to have something personal at stake for their characters. It is not just about the anticipation, the jump scares, and the screaming.

Less impressive are typical tropes where an animal looks solemnly into the shadows as it detects an unseen malevolent presence, something creepy happening on a dark, rainy night, and shocking encounters being reduced to mere nightmares. These elements are unnecessary, painfully pedestrian, some might say insulting; it might have been more effective if Maria were written almost as an investigator—rerouting her grief into progressive action like doing her own research to try to figure out how she could save herself, husband, and her daughter from her own mistake. Alas, that is not how the movie was written. It settles for something far less when it could have been a horror picture to notice and remember.

Directed by Johannes Roberts, “The Other Side of the Door,” a British-Indian film, made me wonder if more American horror movies were set and actually shot in other countries. Perhaps it would cure us from being stuck in telling the same old stories about haunted houses, serial killers, and the like. Not to mention the same look and feel from the ones we usually get. Every country in the world has their own stories. Imagine if they could inspire us to put our spin on their narratives and create something original.

Storage 24

Storage 24 (2012)
★ / ★★★★

Workers in a London storage facility hear a loud explosion and experience an accompanying tremor. Curious as to what is going on, they look outside and notice a building from a couple of yards away emitting black smoke. To one of the workers’ surprise and horror, a jet engine lay on top of his car. Television reports claim that a military cargo plane crash has just occurred. Being so close to the incident, the storage building has gone on automatic lockdown. Unbeknownst to the people still inside, there is a giant container with slime that is wide open. It is assumed to have fallen out of the plane and the creature that was once inside has made it through the vents.

Directed by Johannes Roberts, “Storage 24” feels like a twenty-fourth entry in a film series because pretty much everything about it emanates a dearth of inspiration. While it does have humor so it is not always one note, the scenes designed to build tension lack patience and creativity. The scares, too, leave a lot to be desired.

There is a glimmer of hope because the screenplay seems to welcome comedy amidst the characters attempting to survive against a creature that kills indiscriminately. I enjoyed some of the sarcastic dialogue between Charlie (Noel Clark) and Mark (Colin O’Donoghue), best friends, especially when the former feels the need to vent about his recent break-up with Shelley (Antonia Campbell-Hughes). It is easy to relate to Mark because many of us have been in a situation where we listen to someone else who keeps talking about the same topic because it is our obligation to be polite.

But as the minutes trickle away, it becomes increasingly noticeable that the monster is not given time to be interesting. Instead, the first half is essentially a relationship drama with Charlie asking and begging Shelley to give him a list of things that went wrong in their relationship. It turns into an utter bore despite the would-be twist. Clark has a charming presence but his character at times is such a drag.

When a story involves a monster on the loose, it should always be engaging. When it is not, it is a meteoric sign that something is very wrong. One of the biggest problems is that we learn nothing about the organism. In movies like John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” the creature is fascinating not because of its ability to slice open people. We are horrified of it because of its unthinkable ability to mimic the appearances of humans and animals. What we fear is not only the creature in its original form but also the possibility that it has killed and transformed into someone that is considered a friend. In here, the monster goes through ducts, grabs people, and kills them. What makes this creature worthy of our time? Substitute an unstoppable serial killer like Michael Myers in place of the monster and it does not make much of a difference.

Its formulaic nature began to get under my skin eventually. Must the lights turn off and on during and after, respectively, the supposed scares occur? It bleeds of suffocating typicality that the characters are shown walking or running into dark rooms asking, “Hello? Is someone in here?” One can count the number of beats like clockwork until the Boo! moment. When it arrives, we wonder why they even bother.