Tag: sophie nelisse

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.

The Book Thief

The Book Thief (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) were promised two children so they can receive two allowances, but only one makes it through the trip. The girl’s name is Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) and her younger brother is buried en route near the railroad tracks. Their mother is a communist so in order for them to have a chance of living in Nazi Germany, they had to be given up for adoption. Due to unmet expectations regarding pecuniary matters, Rosa does not quickly warm up to her new daughter.

Based on the novel by Markus Zusack, “The Book Thief” is quite large in scope—the story beginning just before World War II and ending when the lead character has passed due to old age—and it does not have enough time to focus on every character or subplot that matters. However, it is an emotionally engaging film for the most part because it is willing to show the horrors of war from time to time even if its target audience is a younger crowd.

The picture does not make a good first impression. Although beautifully shot from the opening scene, it is a challenge to appreciate how certain characters are drawn. A simplistic approach comes across as one-dimensional at times. More specifically, Hans being the nice, supportive figure and Rosa acting like a witch with just about every opportunity she gets. While Watson is effective in the role, the evil adoptive mother subplot, which lasts for about half the film, runs out of steam within the first half hour. However, the screenplay by Michael Petroni proves able to move beyond the mean substitute mother storyline in an elegant fashion as the horrors of Hitler’s reign move front and center.

Many might argue that the most heartwarming relationship in the film is shared between Liesel and Hans, especially with the latter’s attempt to make the girl’s transition easier. But I was most interested in Liesel’s friendship with her next door neighbor named Rudy (Nico Liersch), a boy with whom the narrator, Death (wonderfully voiced by Roger Allam), refers to as having lemon-colored hair. Liesel and Rudy’s scenes are sweet, amusing, at times funny, and it is easy to root for them to make it through dark times. It is most disappointing that Rudy disappears for a good chunk of time somewhere in the middle.

Another important connection that Liesel makes in the Hubermann household is with a Jewish man named Max (Ben Schnetzer). However, the script does not delve deeply enough into why this relationship is special. We are given repetitive scenes of Liesel reading to Max when he is not well and a few acknowledgments with regards to both of them being targets of the Nazis. Although the scenes where Liesel helps to take care of Max appear touching, I did not buy into it completely. For a smart young person like Liesel, I did not believe that they are not able to have more meaningful conversations about the war and mortality.

I wished, however, that the picture had managed to show more evil actions done by the Germans—not the Nazi soldiers in uniforms and carrying guns but of fellow neighbors who genuinely believe the war’s causes. Some of them probably feel they must support the war. After all, their sons and husbands are participating in it. It would have added a layer of truth or complexity and the dramatic tension might have been more palpable.

Despite its shortcomings, “The Book Thief,” directed by Brian Percival, is worth watching for all-around good performances, beautiful interior shots of small homes and palatial manors serving as contrast against monstrosities happening outside one’s walls, and the score by John Williams. The combinations of these will almost surely tug at the heartstrings.