47 Meters Down
Directed by Johannes Roberts
After last year’s surprise hit The Shallows made audiences nervous about going back in the water, Johannes Roberts (The Other Side of the Door) has a revolutionary idea. What if there wasn’t just one beautiful woman in danger, but two!
Our shark bait are Lisa (Moore) and Kate (Holt): two American sisters visiting Mexico. Recently dumped by her partner for being too boring, Lisa wants to do something exiting. For Kate, this means partying all night with a pair of local guys: Louis (Yani Gellman) and Benjamin (Santiago Segura). Then, on their new friends’ recommendation, going beneath the water in a cage to see some sharks. Kate’s understandably a little nervous at first, but goes along with it when Lisa suggests she can use it for some enviable social media fodder. And besides, it’s only meant to be five metres. But naturally the cage is unsafe and quickly breaks off from the boat before falling to the titular 47. They each have less than an hour of oxygen. They’re not alone. And this is only the end of act one! With the bulk of the movie playing out in real time, there isn’t much room for reflection. Instead the script prioritises a race against the clock narrative, with our thrill seekers getting a little too much for their money between botched escape attempts.
To me, this is a mistake. The premise lends itself to the horror genre well: an unknown country, strangers, running out of oxygen plus a mysterious location that’s both utterly vast and horribly claustrophobic. Then, to boot, there are bloody sharks turning up out of the blue! Roberts does an admirable job of juggling each of these threats throughout, so none are forgotten. Yet the foot on the gas pedal pace means they never seem especially tricky to overcome and for the most part the sisters quickly adapt to whatever happens to them. There are a few moments of real peril, like when Lisa gets lost retrieving a flashlight. But a slower pace could have really helped give it some much needed suspense, that’s so essential to keeping an audience interested in a creature feature.
Maybe comparisons to The Shallows are unfair, given that the films aren’t especially similar in tone. Yet 47 MetersDown really could have done with the same juxtaposition of breakneck moments and marooned, introspective moments. Here, both leads do the best with the scant material they’re given, bringing charisma and believability to their roles. However, with such little opportunity to get to know their characters the film becomes almost completely defined by its situation rather than the people in it. This isn’t their story – it’s just a story. Sure, there’s a loose arc about Kate showing herself she can be impulsive then getting punished for it. But for the most part the two leads could be any two people without much of the dialogue being impacted. Ironically, despite the 47 meters, there’s really not much depth.
The sharks don’t save it. Typically a shark film plays out like a game of wits, with humankind vs nature fighting mentally as much as physically. Who can forget the final showdown in Jaws? Its lasting appeal came from not just the tension, but how personal it felt. Yet here the shark is treated more as an inconvenience, and there’s no relationship between it and either woman (if it’s even the same one throughout). There isn’t even an attempt to integrate it into the few themes of the film by giving it a metaphorical purpose or treating it as more than a source of occasional jump moments. Also disappointing is the final act that undermines itself with a twist you can sniff from 300 feet away.
All of this is frustrating, as Roberts really is technically adept. There are some scenes of oceanic beauty that are very immersive. In particular, look out for a wave to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Moments such as this are a joy to watch and really take us deep into some stunning surroundings. However, they are few and far between, and mainly hint at what could have been accomplished with more balanced plotting. Some of the set pieces are still gripping, even in their rushed form. But in this unbalanced whole they feel like bright drops in a murky ocean. Like the sisters who ended up on the seabed, readers would be advised not to take the plunge.