Uncaged (2016)

SEPTEMBER 16, 2020


Asian countries frequently get wacky titles when they import our movies; Army of Darkness is called "Captain Supermarket" and the Fast & Furious films are known as "Wild Speed" (Furious 7 in particular was "Wild Speed: Sky Mission") in Japan, for example. Normally they're just kinda goofy, but in this particular case I wish we just had theirs, because Dick Maas' film Prooi (which translates as "Prey", and we have enough of those) became Uncaged, which is kind of generic, but in China they got "Violent Fierce Lion"! Not only is that awesome, it's also more helpful in describing the movie. Uncaged sounds like a prison-set action movie or maybe a documentary about my man Nicolas.

No, this is indeed about a violent and fierce lion, who begins terrorizing Amsterdam after picking off a few folks on the outskirts (including kids! This lion is not discriminating!). The heroes are a zookeeper, a budding reporter (also her on/off boyfriend), and a big game hunter that she used to date; there are other supporting characters but in keeping with the scriptures (i.e. Jaws) we mostly only deal with the core trio. That said, one of the many things I enjoyed about the movie is that it was relatively free of Jaws-y things - there's no "close the beaches" type plot, no celebration to cancel, etc. In fact Maas goes the opposite route - the government officials are quick to act (though careful with their wording as to not cause a panic), and it's the press and townsfolk who think they're nuts.

(If I watched the movie in 2016 I might have rolled my eyes at the idea of the press not taking a grave threat so seriously, but nope, now I know that it's pretty accurate.)

But what elevated this from an enjoyable enough nature gone amok movie to something that made me smile (and get one of those coveted hearts on letterboxd) was the "love triangle" between the three leads. See, the new guy Dave is not the best boyfriend in the world, and Lizzy is kind of getting tired of his shit. So when her ex comes to town to save the day, Dave is understandably jealous and a bit concerned she might go back to him. But then they meet and... they become bros! Jack has moved on, is totally welcoming to Dave, and invites them both to dinner, and they're all pals for the rest. It's so sweet! It's almost a shame Dave has to sit most of the climax out when Jack and Lizzy are trapped with the beast inside a medical school; I was hoping for some more of their newfound friendship.

As for the lion, it's... not a real lion, let me crush those hopes right now. Instead it's a mix of CGI and an animatronic, and while the former looks dodgy at times (a global concern for the film, as there are also a number of lion-free shots that look bad due to poor compositing), the latter is fine and appreciated, since they could have just gone all in on the CGI. Of course this means its size seems to change in a few shots (he looks much bigger in earlier shots than he does near the end, when the up close encounters with the heroes means we get more of the animatronic version), but he's not a "monster" - it just seems to be a normal escaped lion, freeing the movie from any mad science/evil corporation kind of nonsense.

The setpieces are nicely varied too - there's a bus attack that causes massive chaos in the streets, a brief playground bit that benefits from the fact that he's already killed a kid in the opening scene (which, naturally, doesn't show him at all), a couple of one on one chases... the movie may run a little long (1:45ish) but it's never dull. And it's logical enough to accept that the lion can disappear into the woods or whatever, allowing the action to spread out over a few days without it being completely unbelievable. It's kind of the best of both worlds - unlike Jaws or other fish types, there's no safety in simply staying out of the water, since it's in a major city, but it's also small enough to get around (though Maas conveniently skips a few of its entrances, so it'll just suddenly be on that bus) and avoid non-stop detection, so the filmmakers never have to pull a Godzilla '98 and simply "lose" the giant creature.

It's a shame it rarely attacks any of the supporting cast though; we meet some people along the way who seem to be perfect fodder (like some guy who claims Dave made a porno tape of his girlfriend) but they never become lion food. The attack scenes are all good on their own, but the impact is diluted when we never know who the hell they are; the movie ends up feeling a bit overpopulated as a result, so whittling down the named characters a touch would not only give the deaths more impact, but also increase the threat that the lion presents to this world. At times it almost feels like he's attacking people in a different movie, as it's not until near the end that any of its victims has a direct impact on our heroes.

But otherwise it's a blast, the exact kind of escapist fare I wanted and a solid example of why I think Shudder's curation is top notch, because it's sitting there in the spotlight section next to "elevated" horror stuff, early 80s fare, and beloved classics, giving you a little bit of everything without having to dig for it like you do on the other services. And it reminded me that I STILL haven't seen Maas' killer elevator movies (which are referenced via a throwaway bit of dialogue about two people trapped in an elevator), so thanks for that, movie.

What say you?


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