47 Meters Down: Uncaged
Directed by Johannes Roberts
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the hidden, underwater Mayan city. Original director/ co-writer Johannes Roberts returns for this stand-alone sequel to his 2017 hit 47 Meters Down. Whereas the first got to the cinema by fluke, this one was written for the big screen but’s being released here on the DVD and VOD (although I do not think this was the case everywhere). Like Roberts’ last sequel, The Strangers: Prey At Night, this one goes for bigger is better so doubles the shark-bait, along with the number of sharks, and takes the setting out of the confines of a cage into the vast caverns of the ruins. It makes for a follow-up that’s better on balance, even if it still isn’t very fresh.
Case in point, the two sisters that get taught about sisterhood when they go up against the sharks are replaced by two step-sisters, that get taught about step-sisterhood when they go up against the sharks. Stick in the mud Mia (Nélisse), and her cooler sis Sasha (Foxx), are supposed to be on a boring glass-bottom boat trip so they can bond. But under Sasha’s suggestion, they ditch it for an adventure with her BFFs (Tju and Stallone). In something of a coincidence, their escapade takes them to a lagoon beside the entrance to a submerged Mayan city recently discovered by Mia’s dad. What’s even more convenient is his crew have handily left all their diving equipment behind just waiting to be pinched. After some gratuitous bikini shots, of the scantily-clad girls splashing with each other to a pop song, they go to check out this archaeological curiosity. It’s going so swimmingly ‘til a bad encounter with a small fish causes a chain reaction which collapses part of the ancient structure, blocking them in with limited air. What’s worse is there are a pair of great white sharks around looking to chow down on them if they’re lucky enough not to drown.
The decision to up-scale from two girls in a cage to four in cave-system works in this sequel’s favour. The claustrophobic tunnels offer the hungry sharks a plethora of well-placed gaps to get at the girls (even if the few kills are underwhelming) plus the pairing of a labyrinth and diminishing air-supplies gives a constant source of tension. Cinematographer Mark Silk, who it seems specialises in underwater camerawork, also does a commendable job of making it all feel immersive. As per the original, there are scenes of tranquil, almost ethereal, beauty when we see the cast and the CGI sharks gliding along majestically. Though for the most part, it’s a murky filter over scenes that resemble an aquatic stalk and slash, as the sharks sneak up on the girls, plus others working at the site, leading to surprisingly effective jump scares. I suspect Roberts’ learnt a lot from his time with The Strangers, in 2018 (interestingly its best scene was an underwater one, albeit in a small pool). The sharks themselves are ok from a distance, although in the bits where they interact with people or chase them they resemble bad Syfy channel CG. It doesn’t help that their albino look is already an unusual design. Hence the cast members have to work hard to be able to sell their fear.
The quartet is fine, even likeable, and each has a good screen presence. However, the reliance on montages in the early scenes means we don’t get to know them very well before the shit hits the fin. Then, once they are, most of their dialogue is yelling for help between whimpers and screams. As such, they have limited opportunities to sell their part. Especially given the confined chaos and scuba gear means we mostly can’t tell which girl is which. The family drama adds some spice to the opening act, though it soon ceases to matter as the film turns into a series of set-pieces over a story. For that reason, I wonder if a person starting it half an hour in would even be missing much. Despite this more situation-oriented writing, Nélisse is the standout. She’s endearing as Mia, finding a careful balance between relatable anxiety and being boring. We feel for her, yet we get why the more outgoing Sasha doesn’t have her back early on (even if we have no idea why other girls bully her).
Some of the chase sequences are quite good, though the relentless pace means neither them nor the characters involved have the impact that they should. It builds to an extravagant ending that’s extremely out of place and *tee-hee* jumps the shark, with over the top slow-mo and a farcical escalation. Where the first movie did a mean-spirited reveal at the end, by making part of it a hallucination, you almost anticipate the same to happen this time around because it becomes so silly. Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had ironic fun at how straight-faced Roberts presents the material. Moreover, for a film that rests on characters doing very, very dumb things, it’s good to see the gals briefly transformed into action heroes. It may be more Deep Blue Sea than Jaws, but the franchise is out of its cage. I’m somewhat curious if we go further down this route next-time, with spectacle over suspense. If they double down on either approach, maybe I’ll be going back in.
47 Meters Down: Uncaged is out on DVD and digital download today.