47 Meters Down (2017)
No Help. No Hope. No Escape.
If you thought the worn-and-weathered shark sub-genre was all washed up, last summer Jaume Collet-Serra’s taunt thriller, The Shallows, reminded moviegoers why it was still not safe to get back into the water, the film making a fairly big splash at the U.S. box-office. This surprise hit soon prompted Entertainment Studios to shelve Dimension Films’ meagerly budgeted shark picture, In the Deep, just a week before its North American DVD/ VOD release last August. Cancelling the home video deal entirely, the studio decided to rename and rebrand the picture then drop it in cinemas round about the same time The Shallows hit screens the previous year. And wa-lah, 47 Meters Down was born, the film a mean ‘n’ lean shark-centered screamfest with just enough bite.
Opening on the balmy beaches of Mexico, the movies follows two vacating sisters, the unadventurous Lisa (Mandy Moore) and her wild-at-heart younger sis, Kate (Claire Holt), this spontaneous holiday spurred by Lisa’s recent split with boyfriend Stuart, who’d left her because he’d gotten tired of their relationship and her ‘boring’ personality. What better way to prove him wrong than a wet-and-wild getaway under the hot Mexican sun, the social media posts/ photos a sure-fire way to make her ex jealous, right? Well, maybe, that’s if Lisa can stop sulking and actually let her hair down. To lift her sister’s spirits, Kate forces Lisa out for a night of boozing and partying, where the girls hook up with a couple of hunky locals. It’s there where the ladies learn about cage diving with sharks, Kate convinced that the ‘cool’ snaps of Lisa partaking in such a thrill-seeking activity would surely make Stuart re-think his sentiments. After some nudging, the wary Lisa thinks, ‘why not?’ and decides to give the daredevil sport a go.
The very next day, Lisa and Kate meet up with the men from the previous night, only to discover that their charter boat is beaten up and alarmingly rusted. Skeptical, Lisa contemplates backing out, but Kate reassures her that everything is going to be fine, the shonky vessel shrugged off as, ‘it’s Mexico!’ Once sailing out into the open ocean, the girls gear-up and get ready to go under, Lisa still super-apprehensive, considering the cage itself was just as rickety as the rest of the craft. After a brief safety session from the outfit’s captain, Taylor (Matthew Modine) — where Lisa lies about having previous dive experience — our protagonists descend into the briny deep, the girls wowed by shimmering schools of fishes before marveling at the menacing yet majestic main event, the jaw-some sharks.
In a short while, Lisa, jacked up on adrenaline, decides it’s high time that she and Kate are returned to the surface, both relatively content with their underwater venture. And that’s when calamity strikes. While Lisa and Kate are being hauled back up, the winch suspending their observation enclosure busts, this sending the gals plummeting down to the seafloor, some 47 meters down (or 154 feet). Now, trapped in shark-infested waters, the injured girls (clearly out of radio range from the ship and its skipper) must try to figure a way back to the top, Lisa and Kate having to deal with decompression sickness (known as the bends), along with their rapidly depleting oxygen supply, this on top of the circling sea-beasts, chiefly a gargantuan killer great white looking to chomp on some tasty human treats.
Scientific inaccuracies aside, along with the sheer implausibility of the premise — i.e. the descent itself, realistically, would’ve killed our heroines before they even hit the ocean floor — 47 Meters Down is an intensely effective B-grade survival thriller, British writer-director Johannes Roberts making the most of his limited location and rousing setup; true, the plunge (and much of scuba gear) is highly sensationalized, but if one can suspend disbelief for about 90-or-so minutes, 47 Meters Down is actually a lot of fun, the film a cheesy popcorn pleasure — even if it falls short of reaching the heights set by last year’s stellar The Shallows.
Co-written by Roberts’ regular collaborator Ernest Riera — both guys having penned the underwhelming The Other Side of the Door (2016), which Roberts also directed — 47 Meters Down plods along at a relatively snappy pace, the movie, in parts, legitimately tense and unnerving. Sure, some of it is far-fetched and a bit silly, but Roberts devises a handful of genuinely gut-wrenching set pieces, these exciting enough to forgive the film for its obvious flaws. For one, the dark and murky open-water environment is tremendously chilling, with a couple of point-of-view sequences standing as nail-biting highs. There’s one scene in particular that had me (quite literally) holding my breath, viewers placed in the flippers of a panic-stricken Lisa, who can see nothing but cloudy, pitch-black water for miles, the audience (much like our leading lady) anxiously anticipating a hungry shark to emerge from the deep, dark depths and swallow her whole. So, those who suffer from agoraphobia should probably steer clear.
For a low budget feature, 47 Meters Down is visually arresting, the underwater photography by Mark Silk, Captain Phillips (2013), really quite impressive. Moreover, the VFX work by Outpost is pretty top-notch, so too are the photorealistic CG sharks; granted, filmmakers have taken some creative liberties with the representation/ behavior of our toothy antagonists, who are depicted here as carnivorous, bloodthirsty predators — hardly like real-life sharks at all. Even the size of the monster-ish snappers is slightly exaggerated — to date, there are no recorded great whites to the scale of the picture’s principal threat, which, according to Captain Taylor, stands at a whopping 28-feet long.
Bar some poorly scripted dialogue — our fearful, frenzied leads churning out clunky exposition — both Mandy Moore, A Walk to Remember (2002), and Claire Holt, best known for her work on the WB’s The Vampire Diaries (2011), deliver passable performances, despite their characters being overly one-note, Lisa a cautious worrywart and Kate a sexy partyer — at least they’ve been given individual dive suits, which make their characters easier to distinguish under the facemask and snorkels. And, hey, they’re alright to look at, too, the pair convincingly selling the bulk of the drama, Moore’s Lisa a decent audience surrogate and somebody viewers can really wrap themselves around.
A fiendishly entertaining white-knuckle shocker, 47 Meters Down is a shark-tastic good time, the flick never over-staying its welcome. Be warned, though, the third act is bound to be divisive, the movie concluding with a groan-inducing twist that nullifies a lot of what came before — if only director Roberts had finished the film about 5 minutes earlier. Either way, 47 Meters Down gives us another reason to be scared of the water. So, anyone up for a cage dive?
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by S-Littner