‘No Way Up’ Review: Self-Serious Sharks Lack Bite

No Way Up

Sharks on a plane is an indelible concept. When David R. Ellis and Samuel L. Jackson put Snakes on a Plane 18 years ago, the internet response was rabid. Resultantly, New Line Cinema commissioned five days’ worth of reshoots, changing both the rating and tone to match what audiences wanted from boarding reptiles onto a domestic flight. Claudio Fäh’s No Way Up might have a nondescript title, but it also has aspirations to be taken more seriously than Shark Bait or Meg 2. It doesn’t want to be a B-movie, grounding its toothy carnage in Very Serious Characters grappling with Very Serious Trauma. It’s a lot like The Black Demon in that way. We know how that went.

Sophie McIntosh’s Ava is en route to Cabo with her boyfriend, Jed (Jeremias Amoore), friend Kyle (Will Attenborough), and bodyguard, Brandon (Colm Meaney). The first act is expositional overload. Ava is the governor’s daughter, her mother passed away in a drowning accident, and she’s considering dropping out of law school. Peripherally, Phyllis Logan’s Mardy, her granddaughter, Rosa (Grace Nettle), and flight attendant Danilo (Manuel Pacific) are introduced, clearly signaled to be survivors when the inciting accident occurs.

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The accident is both sudden and incredulously conceived. Some birds fly into the engine, and soon, it’s on fire. People scream, part of the plane rips apart, and it then plummets into the ocean, sinking until it lodges onto an underwater slope (preciously tilting over an infinite chasm). The known faces survive and immediately regress into bouts of oversharing and interpersonal conflict. Ideally, they could just wait for rescue. But this is a shark movie. And these sharks are hungry.

Fäh’s elevated shark feature starts promisingly enough, and from a craftsmanship perspective, it looks the part. The effects, most notably the sharks, are convincing, seen just often enough to evoke menace without feeling overplayed and reduced to a kind of gray, rubbery threat as they often are in movies like these. Andrew Rodger’s cinematography nicely captures the depth and scale of the underwater slope where much of No Way Up contextually takes place, and the plane interiors are appropriately claustrophobic, reasonably consistent in its geography. Andy Gray’s music is serviceable, evoking tension where it should. There are even a few effective jumps sprinkled in, never a bad idea.

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When they’re on-screen, No Way Up has a vicious pulse. Fäh is wise not to skimp on the gore, and the sharks look genuinely convincing whenever they’re thrashing about and gnawing at survivors. It’s the bare minimum, but it’s a notable rarity in shark cinema today, especially as the subgenre shifts more and more to microbudget shlock where sharks—apex predators of the deep– are consistently rendered CGI sludge.

From an audience perspective, there’s nothing I love more than shouting at the screen as a shark swims up in the background, shrouded in shadow. I know it’s going to strike, I just don’t know when. Maybe it’s a base thrill—and it likely is—but it accounts for why the killer shark genre has subsisted for so long. It’s a horror perennial, one iterated upon ad infinitum. Sharks are like slashers in that way. The rules remain consistent. All you need is a change of scenery. Sharks in space. Christmas sharks. And here, sharks on a plane. If only that was it.

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It’s the intermittent moments that plummet No Way Up from the gory heights it could have reached. Ava and the survivors are frustratingly grim, and for as inane as some of the dialogue can be—Kyle vacillates from hostility to tenderness capriciously—the whole is played frustratingly straight. Legs are ripped off, and moments later, the soundtrack dips as characters recount fond memories from their childhoods with the wistfulness of Céline Sciamma. Bit players get melodramatic death scenes—and they regularly look good—but it’s at odds with the core of what No Way Up is; a movie about sharks on a plane.

Strange as it might sound to say, the central conceit is so ferociously farcical, No Way Up is working against itself for the duration of its runtime. It wants to be a serious survival thriller, but its central menace is deployed so savagely, so fiercely, it regresses into monster movie shlock that never reconciles with its conspicuously elevated aspirations. It’s worth plunging into No Way Up’s water for a few gnarly thrills, but by the time the credits roll, you’ll realize the movie’s biggest obstacle wasn’t the sharks; it was the movie itself.

  • No Way Up


No Way Up not only contends with killer sharks, but also irreconcilable visions. A self-serious tone sucks all the oxygen out of what was otherwise an effective killer shark flick.

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