‘No Way Up’ Serves Up Disaster Movie Thrills With Just Enough Bite

Pair it with 2022’s ‘Fall’ for a fun double feature.

No Way Up
By Rob Hunter · Published on February 20th, 2024

It’s not easy being a fan of shark attack cinema these days. The subgenre has its classics (Jaws, 1975), its mean-spirited entertainment (Tintorera: Killer Shark, 1977), its big B-movie blasts (Deep Blue Sea, 1999), and its unexpected surprises (Deep Blue Sea 3, 2020), but most entries immediately sink to the bottom. It’s especially bad these days as cheap, ugly CG sharks have become the norm. Too many filmmakers don’t seem to be making the effort to deliver anything fresher than week-old fish, so it’s a joy when something outside of the box comes splashing into view. No Way Up is a disaster/survival thriller with a very specific, and very unexpected threat — sharks on a plane.

The early flight from Los Angeles to Cabo is a mostly empty one with only a couple dozen people between the passengers and crew, but it’s about to get a whole lot leaner. An engine explodes after a bird strike, a large hole blows out the side of the plane, and after a brief respite floating atop the ocean, the plane quickly submerges beneath the surface. Some are killed on impact, and others drown in their seats, but a handful of people take refuge at the back of the plane where an air bubble has formed. Wait for a possible rescue? Swim out the hole and hope to reach the surface? Better decide quick as the water is rising… and the sharks have come calling to this unexpected buffet.

There’s no two ways about it. “Sharks on a plane” is a dumb idea. Where 2006’s Samuel L. Jackson vehicle Snakes on a Plane made a point of leaning in to the silliness of its premise, No Way Up takes the opposite approach. A serious thriller about sharks on a motherfucking plane won’t work for everyone, but jump in with the appropriate B-movie expectations, and you’re likely to be pleasantly surprised by its personality, thrills, and resourcefulness.

The film wisely gives over only a brief time to introducing its characters before plunging them into chaos, but it’s enough time to get familiar with the ensemble. Ava (Sophie McIntosh) is the governor’s daughter, an insecure young woman so nervous about a vacation with her boyfriend Jed (Jeremias Amoore) and their friend Kyle (Will Attenborough) that she asks her bodyguard Brandon (Colm Meaney) to join them. Hank (James Caroll Jordan) and Mardy (Phyllis Logan) are heading to a tropical timeshare with their granddaughter Rosa (Grace Nettle) in tow. And finally, Danilo (Manuel Pacific) is the flight attendant lucky enough to be assigned the rear of the plane. To be sure, whether due to performances or writing, none of them manage to truly endear themselves to viewers. The plus side, though, is that none of them will immediately have you wishing they’d become shark food either.

It’s a basic bunch, but once they’re established, director Claudio Fäh and writer Andy Mayson shift their focus towards keeping No Way Up moving even after the plane has come to a stop. The best disaster/survival thrillers know that the “big” challenge works best when preceded by a series of smaller, equally dangerous threats. The ultimate goal for these characters is to reach the surface and safety, but new prompts arrive on a steadily increasing schedule. The water is rising inside the plane, and oxygen is limited. The plane itself is on an underwater ledge and occasionally shifting closer to the edge. Injuries complicate options for some of the survivors. And finally, sharks have begun swimming through the hole and feasting on the dead. It’s not long before the predators set their sights on the living too.

The sharks themselves are visible enough without ever being so in your face that you can see the pixels, and they appear to be a mix of both the practical and the digital (albeit more of the latter than the former). They’re effective even as Fäh uses them a bit too often for jump scares with loud stingers, and they serve as fun exclamation marks on the film’s various suspense scenes. Mayson’s script does a good job keeping those sequences coming, and it’s not always clear which characters, if any, will live to breath fresh air again.

Budget prevents things from ever feeling big or grand, but cinematographer Andrew Rodger makes the most of the plane’s claustrophobic interior. We can feel the oxygen growing stale, sense the fear overcoming the rational, and the rising water continues to leave more room for uninvited guests. It’s a ticking clock thriller, of sorts, with hungry sharks representing the minute hand, and even if it never soars it moves pretty slickly through the water.

Look, No Way Up is a low budget, direct-to-video disaster thriller, so if you “need” studio budgets and precision in order to buy in this isn’t the plane ride for you. Slow your beans, though, and settle in for an entertaining B-movie about a group of people facing a deadly but ridiculous predicament, and you won’t be disappointed.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he’s so damn young. He’s our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists ‘Broadcast News’ as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.

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