Tag Archives: survival movies



by George Wolf

Just when you thought it was safe to explore your Florida crawlspaces during a Category 5, here comes Crawl to remind us that while Sharknadoes put tongues in cheeks, Gatorcanes are looking to remove the whole head.

Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) is a University of Florida swimmer (a Gator!), which comes in pretty handy when she ignores evacuation orders to look for the father that always challenged her to do better in the pool.

Dave Keller (Barry Pepper) is lying injured in a soggy basement, and even before Haley finds him, she finds that they are not alone.

Director Alexandre Aja (High Tension, Piranha 3D, The Hills Have Eyes remake) utilizes the confines of the flooding house to fine effect. Walls, pipes and tight corners create natural barriers between gator and bait, but as the water level keeps rising, Aja finds plenty of room for simmering tension and effective jump scares.

Plus plenty of bloodletting. Oh, yes, people do get eaten.

This survival tale doesn’t worry too much about suspending disbelief. It just keeps the water rising, the obstacles mounting (Haley’s “You gotta be fucking kidding me” speaks for all of us) and the visual effects nimble and nifty.

Writers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen get a bit too enamored with the father/daughter estrangements and swim team parlance (“You’re faster than they are! Swim!”), but Scodelario provides a capable anchor, giving Haley authentic layers of toughness and grit.

Aja and the effects team do the rest, enough to make Crawl an often entertaining creature and bloody fun summer feature.

Cold Comfort


by George Wolf

Arctic is a survival film that wastes no time getting to the survival.

Director/co-writer Joe Penna drops us somewhere in the Arctic Circle long enough after a place crash that lone survivor Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen) has had time to construct a makeshift camp. We get no backstory, no thrilling crash effects and no time to assess the situation, which is perfect on two fronts.

1) The situation is pretty damn clear, and 2) so are the film’s unflinching parameters. There’ll be no spoon-feeding here, are you in or are you out?

Mikkelsen is all in, with a supremely committed performance full of both strength and vulnerability. In a film that’s nearly dialog-free, Mikkelsen sparks a curiosity about his character that the film is in no hurry to indulge. Overgård is clearly meticulous and intelligent, cautious and resourceful, but it is after an early rescue attempt goes awry that Mikkelsen delivers the layers of humanity that add an ethereal beauty to the sterile, potentially deadly climate.

Suddenly, there is the safety of a badly injured woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) to consider. As Overgård weighs the options of waiting for another rescue or striking out on foot, Mikkelson excels in making the emotional weight authentic, along with some simple joys that come from supplies found in the woman’s downed helicopter.

While it might be tempting to label this a snow-covered Castaway, the experience is closer to Robert Redford’s 2013 vehicle All is Lost. In his feature debut, Penna displays majestic wide-angle vistas without any photographic glamour that might betray what Overgård is up against. In trimming away all excess narrative, he immerses you only in the often gut-wrenching journey.

The result is never less than believable, a no muss, plenty of frigid fuss endurance tale that feels real.

And real cold.



Shark Sandwich

The Shallows

by Hope Madden

Is The Shallows – Blake Lively’s new flick about a surfer trying to survive a shark attack – simply a girl power exercise wrapped in a sandy bikini?


Still, it gets as much right as it does wrong.

Lively plays Nancy, a med student alone on a secluded, secret beach in Mexico. She’s here to be alone, to mourn, to surf. As the local drops her off on the beach and refuses her offer of cash, he asks how she plans to get back to town.

Excellent question.

There’s a great deal of convenient idiocy in this screenplay, but director Jaume Collet-Serra – who is no comrade of subtlety – actually handles most of these items deftly. After a few middling horror efforts, Collet-Serra made his name with a string of Liam Neeson films, so he knows a little something about a solitary figure fighting deadly odds.

Lively does a fine job in what is essentially a one-surfer-show. Nancy is smart. Not smart enough to avoid surfing alone in an isolated area of a foreign land, but a different kind of smart. MacGyver smart. And it’s with a balance of delicacy and grit that she just about makes you believe the ludicrous.

The Shallows is gorgeously filmed – and not just Lively. Yes, the camera hugs her form more closely than a wet suit, but Collet-Serra treats the surf, sky and sand with as much ardor. A generous reviewer might even say he’s creating a parallel – something about breathtaking beauty that belies serious ferocity. I am not generous enough to buy that theory, but I am generous enough to throw it out there.

For stretches, The Shallows will have you believing you’re watching a tense, thoughtful survival drama. Eventually the shark becomes a vengeful-mythical-beast-warrior-machine-monster, and any hint of credibility is lost at sea. This is the age of Sharknado – maybe Collet-Serra didn’t think he could keep his audience’s attention until the shark tried to scale something with his teeth?

Whatever the case, it’s a wild mashup of efforts: equal parts empowerment and ogling, survival thriller and Sharkasaurus Rex.