Movie Review ~ Unhuman

The Facts:

Synopsis: Seven misfit students must unite against a growing gang of unhuman savages.
Stars: Brianne Tju, Benjamin Wadsworth, Uriah Shelton, Ali Gallo, Drew Scheid, Lo Graham, Peter Giles
Director: Marcus Dunstan
Rated: NR
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: Two short weeks ago, we talked about Torn Hearts, a Blumhouse Television and EPIX production that hit a dandy of a sweet spot melding horror and the country music scene.  A low-budget effort that still had the flair and, most importantly, the ambition of a project with double its budget, that movie was an easy to recommend a bit of entertainment from the streaming service as well as the television branch of Jason Blum’s film production company.  Never short on product, EPIX and Blumhouse Television are back with Unhuman, another offering drawing blood from the same ghoulish vein as Torn Hearts, albeit in an entirely different realm of the horror genre.

Cheekily positing itself as a twisted After-School Special, writers Patrick Melton (Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) and Marcus Dunstan (Piranha 3DD, who also directs) get the film off to a rollicking start via an introduction of the stock characters.  Nice girl Ever (Brianne Tju, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged) and not quite as nice best friend Tamra (Ali Gallo) join their classmates for a 4H field trip into the backwoods.  You’ve got your jock (Uriah Shelton, Freaky) and his trophy girlfriend (Lo Graham, This Is the End) as well as the token minority friend (C.J. LeBlanc, Just Mercy), not to mention two teens ripe for bullying (Drew Scheid, Halloween and Lucy Burvant) and the brooding object of multiple affections (Benjamin Wadsworth).  Chaperoning them is a wise-cracking teacher (Owen Wilson impersonator Peter Giles) and a grumpy bus driver.

We’ve barely met this troupe before an accident sends their bus careening off the road and puts them face to face with an outside danger no amount of extracurricular credit could have prepared them.  Radio broadcasts drop few clues, but it’s clear they’re on their own for the immediate future, so staying on the bus to be picked off one by one isn’t an option.  Not that the vicious creature circling the bus is giving them much of choice in that matter, either.  As the class separates and begins to learn more about themselves and the events leading up to the day, they’ll see that while they have been fending off a multiplying horde of ghouls, the cause of it all might be one of their own.

For a good chunk of Unhuman, Dunstan has a good thing going, and it’s primarily attributed to a game cast who takes the material only as seriously as it will allow.  Possessing several nicely placed twists along the way, I found it easy to stay engaged with the group. While all are playing specific archetypes of the teen genre, none entirely settle into comfortable ways of approaching these familiar characters.  I especially liked Tju (so good in the upcoming Winona Ryder movie The Cow), who leads Unhuman with grit that carries it through the back half when its low-budget skeleton starts to show. 

It’s disappointing that the filmmakers couldn’t land the ending, and if I’m being honest, it gets messy as it moves toward the finale.  Almost feeling like there was a rush to complete the movie, there’s a mish-mash quality to those last moments, which are incongruent with the pleasant surprises presented up until that point.  Unhuman is strong enough for me to offer it as a worthy suggestion as a 90-minute diversion, but you’ll need to level-set your expectations near the finish line.

Movie Review ~ 47 Meters Down: Uncaged


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Four teen girls diving in a ruined underwater city quickly learn they’ve entered the territory of the deadliest shark species in the claustrophobic labyrinth of submerged caves.

Stars: Sophie Nélisse, Corinine Foxx, John Corbett, Sistine Stallone, Brianne Tju, Nia Long, Davi Santos, Khylin Rhambo, Brec Bassinger

Director: Johannes Roberts

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Two years ago, a minor miracle happened when the newly formed (and creatively named) Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures bought a movie called In the Deep.  Though it had been released on DVD in the U.S. already, that didn’t bother the company who saw potential to capitalize on the lack of creature features swimming into theaters.  Renaming the film 47 Meters Down and giving it a prime June release date, the studio gambled big and reaped the rewards of their low budget movie that saw big box office returns.  At the time, I had heard a sequel was being planned but details were scarce on what was being sold as 48 Meters Down.  I’d all but forgotten about the sharky follow-up until a preview arrived shortly before 47 Meters Down: Uncaged was released.

Usually, these sequels can go seriously awry because of a lack of creative input.  The original did so well so why not just follow the same plot, add a few more deaths, and call it a day?  Thankfully, this sequel decides to go a different route and in many ways improves upon its predecessor by upping the ante not just with the script but for the filmmakers too.  Sure, there are more characters to deal with and an almost pathological need to scare the audience by jolting them with sneak attacks but the overall effect is a highly watchable and not quite implausible underwater thriller.  Where the first movie made good use of a limited setting and an ever-present feeling of claustrophobia, the sequel opens things up slightly but still finds a way to keep things contained in a small scareground.

Living with her dad (John Corbett, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2) and his new wife (Nia Long, in this so briefly she doesn’t even appear in the opening credits) in Mexico, Mia (Sophie Nélisse, The Book Thief) is having trouble fitting into her new surroundings.  Her stepsister Sasha (Corinne Foxx) could care less about her, preferring to hang with her friends Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Stallone).   With her dad busy researching a recently discovered submerged Mayan city, Mia is pawned off on Sasha and her friends for the day.  As this is a movie about a shark and being trapped underwater, I appreciated the filmmakers deemed it worthy to make the time on dry ground count, even if it’s a broken family set-up straight out of a soap opera and acted with about as much gusto.  Though their parents believe they are going on a boat tour, the stepsisters actually trek into the forest where Alexa shows them a hidden lagoon.

Now, it just so happens Alexa has gotten chummy (pardon the pun) with a research assistant to Mia’s dad and the lagoon sits on top of the entrance to the Mayan city.  Desperate for a little adventure, the girls decide to scuba down into the city and look through the first cave before returning to the surface.  Once they get in, though, a bad decision leads to them being stuck in the labyrinthine city…and they’re not alone.  How a Great White shark came to be in the city is anyone’s guess but over time the shark has acclimated to the dark waters and is blind, hunting only by its already heightened senses.  As the girls struggle to find another way out the shark blocks their advances and with their air supply running thin, will they reach the surface before they become shark bait?

Y’know, in some ways it would have been wonderful if the shark aspect of the 47 Meters Down: Uncaged could have been a twist that wasn’t revealed in any of the marketing materials.  The first appearance of the CGI shark is genuinely scary and though it often looks like a computer-generated creature there are enough solid moments to make you forgive the bad ones.  Already in a precarious situation being trapped with a limited air supply, the added complexity of evading a predator puts extra pressure on the women (and consistent tension on audiences) over the remaining 60 minutes and returning director Johannes Roberts uses every minute wisely.

Performances are, for the most part, admirable in the face of some silly dialogue and implausible technology used throughout the film.   At first, Nélisse was such a mumbling noodle lacking the charisma of a leading lady that I worried the movie would suffer from not being able to root for her but she comes around once she has to rise to the occasion and get out of the path of the shark.  Foxx and especially Tju are good supporting characters while Stallone (yes, she’s Sly’s daughter in her first role) unfortunately carries on the family name with lazily slurring most of her lines.  Even so, when you consider the vast majority of the movie was filmed underwater and considering what an undertaking that must have been, the end result overcomes any leaky spots in a slightly rusty bucket.

Roberts seems to treat the entire movie like a pot of boiling water he keeps turning the temperature up on.  Once the heat gets applied there’s no letting up…all the way until the credits roll.  There are several false endings that maybe go on too long but I was having such a good time splashing around in the water that I didn’t mind.  Like the first movie, this one would be fun to see in the theaters but would also work perfectly well on the small screen as a rainy day option.  It’s short running time goes by quickly and the creative set-up held my interest more than I thought it would.  If this is the way Roberts plots out a sequel, I’m all for giving him the opportunity to take us down for a third dive with the sharks in another few years.