* When a Stranger Calls
This film really three in one. The first part is the best and most suspenseful which I expected it to last the whole film. Jill Johnson is babysitting for an evening when the children have already been put to bed. She does her homework and calls her friends, but someone keeps calling and asking if she's checked the children. I felt her fear. It rose every time she got another call and every time she talked to the police. The sound of a phone ringing has never been so ominous. The end of this part was an explosion of emotion and the climax of suspense that had been built over the first 40 minutes. The most grisly bits are left to the imagination which of course is much worse than whatever could have been shown. This scene is what the film is known for and its lasting effect is seen in later films like Scream.
The next section is far less interesting and more like a police procedural taking place 7 years later. We follow a private detective to catch the killer from the first part of the film (Duncan) who escaped from the institution. The PI isn't the nicest person, but will do anything he can to catch the killer. Duncan tries to pick up a woman named Tracy and ends up beat up by a bar patron. I hated this scene because it seemed like the audience was supposed to be ok with her being harassed by this obviously unstable man who wouldn't leave her alone. Afterwards, Duncan shows up at her apartment and won't leave. This does a good job of portraying the dangers women experience even now that no one really gave a shit about back then. Tracy isn't the friendliest of people and rebuffs the PI when he starts asking questions. I wouldn't be super friendly either being single in a big city where treatment like this is typical.
The last part of the film returns to Jill and her family. She has a husband, a successful job, and two children. In a reflection of her first scene, she hires a babysitter for a fancy dinner to celebrate with her husband. She gets a call midway through the meal that breaks her: a man asking if she's checked her children. The tension returns in the final confrontation that had me guessing what would happen. The beginning and the end are perfect, but the middle dragged on too long, infuriated me, and didn't seem necessary at all.
My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins
* 47 Meters Down
Two sisters Lisa and Kate go to Mexico for a vacation. Lisa wants to put her breakup out of her mind and live it up to show him and Kate wants the thrill of being near sharks, so they go on a random, not hotel approved shark swimming excursion. Despite the fact Lisa has no idea how to scuba dive, they get in the shark cage and are lowered down after chumming the waters to attract the great white sharks. Everything is wonderful at first, but the line snaps and they sink to the ocean floor. Running out of air and surrounded by sharks, chances of survival are not good for these sisters.
Apparently, 47 Meters Down was supposed to come out around the time that The Shallows did, but was postponed due to the other film's popularity. 47 Meters Down is clearly the superior of the two shark films that has actual suspense, horror, and action. I was on the edge of my seat for most of the film and the situation changed slightly during the course of the film. First, the sisters are in the cage at the bottom of the ocean. Throughout the film, they leave the safety of the cage for specific objects or to get close enough to communicate with the boat that brought them. It changes where the threat is coming from and which danger has higher priority: running out of air or being eaten by sharks.
The relationship between the sisters is the most important part of the film for me. Despite astronomical odds and their own panic, they work to keep each other calm and encourage each other. They are a team no matter what. In many films, tensions rise and ugly things come out when situations look bleak. They will go above and beyond for each other even when things seem impossible. The ending is completely unexpected. Some clues are given on the way as to its nature, but they are easy to dismiss.
The only flaws were relatively small. The excursion crew made a big deal about getting the bends ascending to the surface, but I'm sure rushing to the ocean floor would have the same effect. That crew's whole motivation for staying is pretty suspicious. I would guess that they were people who want to do the right thing, but the cynic in me says they realistically would have left. No one knew the women went with them. Who would know if they just left? I very much enjoyed this film despite its flaws and it's worlds better than any shark film in the last decade.
My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins