'47 Meters Down'
Just when you thought it was safe to send a movie starlet back in the water… Last summer, Blakely Lively went toe-to-teeth with a shark in ‘The Shallows’ and now it’s Mandy Moore’s turn. While Lively’s flick was adorably ridiculous pulp, Moore’s ’47 Meters Down’ plays things relatively straight, which for a while is its greatest strength, but eventually pushes the movie into deep enough waters that it has trouble coming back up for air.
Writer/director Johannes Roberts (who previously made a series of relatively obscure horror yarns like ‘The Other Side of the Door’ and ‘Storage 24′) admirably wastes little time in setting up his shark-infested thriller. Mandy Moore and Claire Holt play sisters Lisa and Kate, who are on vacation in Mexico. Lisa was recently dumped by her long-term boyfriend for being dull and predictable, which sparks a desire in the typically reserved sister to go kwazy! At first, that means hooking up with a pair of local hunks, but then on the hunks’ suggestion that means traveling out into the ocean for some underwater shark ogling. Mathew Modine plays the captain of the creaky vessel taking the gang on a ride. His cage seems a bit rusted out and old. He knows the girls don’t have much scuba experience and is definitely aware that dropping blood into the water to excite the local sharks isn’t a great idea, but he does it for a quick buck anyway. Then wouldn’t ya know it, things go wrong!
Specifically, the line to the shark cage breaks and the gals plummet inside it to the ocean floor. They’re trapped 47 meters (so that’s why the movie’s called that!) underwater. There are sharks everywhere. They need to swim seven meters up just to communicate with the boat and coordinate a rescue. They’re running out of air. If anyone attempts to swim down and save the young women, chances are they’ll get munched on by all those bloodthirsty sharks. Even if the gals attempt to swim up themselves, they need to do so slowly and with breaks to avoid the bends (brain bubbles that will kill them). So, it’s a pretty tense situation, just the sort of thing that makes for a ripe survival horror romp. That’s what Roberts delivers. Shot almost entirely underwater and unfolding almost entirely in real time, ’47 Meters Down’ is an endlessly suspenseful, frequently bloody, and consistently entertaining little tale of human shark food desperately attempting to avoid a spot on the lunch menu.
While the perfunctory character establishing opening might be a little clunky, Roberts doesn’t waste time getting to the good stuff. This lean and mean 89-minute shark thriller uses only the bare narrative essentials to get to its girls in the water. The lead actresses make up for their lack of characterization with natural charisma to create protagonists worth caring about. Everyone else is there to get them to the danger zone and explain the stakes. Once shit goes south, the cameras never leave the characters to get air or taste daylight. Viewers are trapped in increasingly intense circumstances captured through some beautiful underwater cinematography. It’s enough to make you squirm in your seat and feel sweat inch up your back. The situation is excruciating and Roberts effectively makes the audience feel like they’re trapped with the characters.
Unfortunately, Moore and Holt can only scream and panic in a sunken cage for so long. They eventually have to work to survive, and slowly that moves the film into sillier realms that are hard to recover from. The sharks are all CGI, which makes sense given that those deadly creatures aren’t exactly trainable for film performances. However, it also doesn’t take long for the sharks to seem cartoony and difficult to take seriously as an onscreen threat. Beyond that, the script increasingly relies on leaps in logic and tragically convenient mistakes to keep the girls trapped and the stakes climbing. At a certain point, realism is entirely abandoned in the name of pulp entertainment and the movie gets a little silly for its own good. Granted, there’s a reason for that laid on so thick so that the escape hatch twist is too easy to predict. A final shot could have saved everything, but then Roberts keeps things going for a tacked-on happy ending that’s more perfunctory than satisfying.
Sadly, that means ’47 Meters Down’ is the lesser of the two CGI shark thrillers we’ve gotten in as many years. Perhaps ‘The Shallows’ was even more absurd than this, but at least that movie leant into the absurdity and turned into a Roadrunner cartoon for pure popcorn glee. ’47 Meters Down’ tries just a little too hard to be taken seriously for its cartoonish excess to play as pulp fun or tongue-in-cheek genre absurdity. In the end, it’s neither fish nor fowl, not quite working as a sustained piece of serious shark thrills or as ludicrous exploitation nonsense.
On the other hand, the flick is so well made and delivers just enough effective sequences to land in the win column. ’47 Meters Down’ is no masterpiece, but it will be enough to ensure that those who are already apprehensive about dangling their digits in the deep won’t even dip a toe into open bodies of water all summer. That’ll do. After all, it’s not like anyone expected a Mandy Moore vs. Sharks movie to qualify as high art.