Director: Johannes Roberts Starring: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine Running Time: 85 minutes
People don’t want to think it’s safe to go back in the water. Jaws is a classic for a reason, but even getting away from that, movies like Open Water and last year’s hit The Shallows have made easy money by preying on audiences’ primal fear of the ocean and the black-beasts that lurk within. If you’ll forgive the phrasing, 47 Meters Down attempts to dive deeper into those fears, drawing its scares not just from its sharks but from threats like drowning, the bends, accidentally spear-gunning yourself and other nightmarish scenarios that arise when trapped on the ocean floor. A maniac chasing us through our dreams to kill us with knife-gloves and awful puns is impossible, but being eaten by a shark? Sure it’s a 1 in 264.1 million chance, but there’s still a chance, and it’s that fear that shark movies tap into to great effect. Unfortunately, while your chances of enjoying this film are a bit better than 1 in 264.1 million, it’s still a long way from a sure thing.
The wide eyes of Mandy Moore have been drafted here to bulge in horror as Lisa, one of a pair of sisters on holiday in Mexico. Lisa has been recently dumped for being “too boring”, and sibling Kate is looking to push her to have more sense of adventure. Kate, played by Australian Claire Holt, is confident, outgoing and actually trained in how to dive, all qualities that make her not necessarily interesting, but more blatant dead meat than Lisa, who is something of a drip long before she gets near the water but who has an obvious arc to get through. In the grand cinematic tradition of holidays being death traps and locals being untrustworthy, Lisa and Kate hook up with a pair of guys who regale them with tales about cage diving with sharks, only to bring them out to a sketchy boat, captained by Matthew Modine of Full Metal Jacket and Stranger Things fame. Needless to say, mistakes are made, cables are rusty and before long the sisters are trapped on the sea floor, out of range of communication, with sharks on the prowl as the oxygen levels in the women’s tanks depletes rapidly.
47 Meters Down perhaps deserves some credit for not relying entirely on its sharks for scares. The situation the film’s characters find themselves in is certainly harrowing with or without the sharks, with body parts getting trapped under heavy cages, every sentence or scream bringing the oxygen down and repeated emphasis on the dangers of getting nitrogen bubbles in the brain. The film’s main problem though, is that repeated emphasis. For a story that takes place almost entirely underwater it’s never shy with words, going over the same plot points over and over. This is a film that stays in one place and tends to introduce problems one at a time, it isn’t hard to follow, and yet it never quite trusts the viewers to understand things like the presence of a spear gun unless Mandy Moore says “Spear gun!”, or that they’re running out of time unless she says “We’re running out of time!” Or that she’s scared unless she says “I’m so scared!” Entire lines of dialogue are repeated more than once, undermining the minimalism of the premise, stranding viewers in open water but making sure they’re equipped with inflatable arm bands. The film’s title is a clue to where its priorities are for subject matter, but it can’t help to find reasons to send Lisa and Claire on ventures out of the cage, and only in sharkier waters does it approach something interesting.
The sharks do provide suitably shlocky scares, even as they’re kept on the fringes. One becomes grateful for their presence, ramping the tension back up again after yet another update from Lisa to Claire about whether she’s scared or not (she is, for the record). Director Johannes Roberts seems much more comfortable when they’re around, with the big and loud scares eventually proving to be more effective than the pressure cooker stuff. Ultimately the film proves to be at its best when it commits fully to stupidity, ramping up the B Movie style considerably for its final minutes, before ending on a note that while mean-spirited, at least provides something more memorable than most of the movie that preceded it.(2 / 5)