No Way Up


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

No Way Up
"There’s some innovative work in which water surges up against the camera as a shark lunges, and glimpsing just parts of these animals gives us a greater sense of their power."

The tag line is ‘sharks on a plane’. It actually features sharks on a plane. Why not call it that? Doing so would guarantee an audience, so one can only conclude that Claudio Fäh’s film has ambitions that go beyond the B-movie, that it wants to be taken seriously. It does, at any rate, shun comedy in favour of horror-inflected drama, and a real investment has been made in casting, with Colm Meaney delivering no less than you’d expect in the role of a bodyguard who has a fatherly relationship with his twentysomething charge, Ava (Sophie McIntosh). But can it go the distance?

Ava is in this position not because she’s another young celebrity or influencer of the sort becoming commonplace in such films today. Rather, she’s the daughter of a senator, and she’s in the process of trying to establish a life of her own. This involves her dull engineer boyfriend (Jeremias Amoore) and their obnoxious friend Kyle (Will Attenborough), who starts talking about the fragility of planes the moment they get on board, knowing that she’s afraid of flying. He also does his best to bait the sympathetic young airline steward (Manuel Pacific) with homophobic comments which achieve vey little beyond giving the impression that he’s in the closet himself. Meanwhile, Ava forms a bond with ten-year-old Rosa (Grace Nettle) who is travelling with her grandparents, one of whom (Phyllis Logan) just happens to be a former army medic.

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We never learn why the plane malfunctions; it doesn’t really matter. Rosa is the first to spot a problem with the engine, but is a remarkably mature kid and doesn’t do what most would do, and shout about it, so there’s no mass panic and most people don’t realise anything is wrong until they’re plummeting towards the ocean. There the survivors have a bit of luck: the plane is wedged on a rocky slope, not so deep that the hull would just crumple under the pressure. What’s more, the water is sufficiently warm that they don’t have to worry about hypothermia. They do have to worry about the fact that they might slide off that slope, that the plane might leak, that there’s a gaping hole in the side of it and, yes, the aforementioned sharks.

As in many a disaster movie, the bulk of this is concerned with a small group of people trapped in a small space disagreeing with each other as they try to figure out what to do. Naturally, Fäh ups the ante every now and again by having the water rise a little higher. We don’t get a lot of shark action but it’s very effectively delivered. Cheesy shots of mouths full of teeth glimpsed through windows aside, there’s some innovative work in which water surges up against the camera as a shark lunges, and glimpsing just parts of these animals gives us a greater sense of their power. It’s rare to see someone take a fresh approach to depicting shark attacks, and this stuff succeeds in being both scary and realistic (after allowing for the unlikeliness of the premise), so Fäh deserves praise for that.

Owing to Ava’s situation, the group know that there’s a good chance of them being located and rescued, but they have no idea how long that might take. Should they stay in their little bubble of air, or somehow locate an oxygen supply (with every search through luggage taking them into dangerous flooded areas) and bolt for the surface, not knowing whether or not they can find help when they get there? It is perhaps fortunate that their expert is a mechanical engineer rather than a chemical engineer or they might have to have some awkward conversations about nitrogen and how it behaves, for instance in blood, when under pressure, but as it is the film just sets that aside, so the dilemma remains simple – and gets more and more scary.

Though the actors are mostly okay, the script isn’t really strong enough to sustain the psychological drama for as long as necessary, and some of the incidents used as padding deplete the tension more through distraction than they add to it through action. It would have been nice to see more made of an effective sequence in which Ava searches through the hold. The girl works well, and gets to contribute ideas, which is a nice antidote to the way kids are treated in most such films, but there’s a twee postscript to her story which doesn’t ring true. It’s nice to see so much effort go into a film of this type. and refreshing to get away from camp genre entries which are really getting tedious, but ultimately Fäh’s film doesn’t have quite enough bite.

Reviewed on: 15 Feb 2024
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No Way Up packshot
When a plane crashes into the sea and becomes lodged on a rocky ledge, the survivors must decide whether to attempt a daring escape or try to hold on in an air pocket - with sharks on the plane.

Director: Claudio Fäh

Writer: Andy Mayson

Starring: Sophie McIntosh, Phyllis Logan, Colm Meaney, Will Attenborough, Grace Nettle, Manuel Pacific, Jeremias Amoore

Year: 2024

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US


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