Studio: Entertainment Studios
Director: Johannes Roberts
Writer: Johannes Roberts, Ernest Riera
Producer: James Harris, Mark Lane
Stars: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Chris J. Johnson, Yani Gellman, Santiago Segura, Matthew Modine
Two vacationing sisters become trapped underwater when their shark dive cage crashes to the ocean floor.
If you come for the sharks, prepare to stay for suspense of a slightly different sort. Marketing mildly misrepresents “47 Meters Down” as a “shark movie” along the lines of “Jaws” or “Deep Blue Sea.” Sharks certainly play a big part as a perpetually looming threat for the protagonist pair. But it would be more accurate to identify “47 Meters Down” as a trapped underwater chiller where paranoia and suffocation present greater dangers during a desperate struggle to survive.
A Mexico getaway for sisters Lisa and Kate turns slightly sour when Lisa reveals her longtime beau recently broke her heart. Kate thinks she might have a cure. Cue the clubbing montage, a standard sequence for this stage of the story, where the girls dance in slow motion to a pop song while craning necks for tequila shots with two swarthy locals.
The men propose that the women join them on a shark-watching cage dive the next day. Lisa lies about having scuba experience, the cage looks to be more rust than metal, a sketchy skipper (Matthew Modine looking odd in a bandana) captains the boat, and a shifty deckhand illegally chums the water as a lure.
In other words, red warning signs are blinding. However, Kate reminds Lisa that if she wants to make her ex jealous on Instagram, this is a primo opportunity for unique pictures.
Right about here, one greatly appreciates the smart casting of Claire Holt and Mandy Moore as likable leading ladies. Their switch from flirtatiously flighty to fiercely resourceful reads real because of inherent maturity their presences bring to roles written as blandly archetypical. You wouldn’t buy everything they have to sell if the actresses weren’t supplying the charm.
Creating characters through charisma gives the movie leeway to get away with forehead-slapping behavior and eye-rolling lines. Moore has to talk to herself frequently as narration for anyone too dense to see exposition for themselves. She’ll say things such as, “there’s what I need” or, “this might be useful later” while already grabbing said item. Nervous solo chatter makes some sense given her understandably panicked predicament. Yet it’s far easier to forgive ditzy dialogue like, “the shark almost got me!” which is delivered with a straight face while the audience jeers, when the person saying it has Mandy Moore’s affability.
“47 Meters Down” gets right to the peak of its premise pretty quick. Then it strangely stands still for a spell while the boat is put in position, the girls don their suits, etc.
This trend of pausing in like-it-or-not lulls continues occasionally even once the cage goes in the water and the cable goes kablooey. Granted, there are only so many miles to be gained from a plot summarized in a single sentence. But pacing skips a step when it gets stuck waiting for a shark, or lingers too long in a moment of tension we know will turn out okay.
E.g. it’s unlikely either woman will drown within five movie minutes of first falling to the ocean floor. Presenting such a scenario as a possibility tries stretching suspense that doesn’t necessarily exist in the first place.
Once Lisa and Kate are in the water, the camera never cuts back to the surface to see what the men are doing on the boat. This turns out to be a terrific move to keep claustrophobia confined and the focus centered specifically on what these two women must overcome to work their way out of the situation. “47 Meters Down” capably captures a breath-stealing sense of submersion and being stranded using excellent sound design and cinematography.
The film is fairly FX-heavy with some impossible camera shots outing themselves as only achievable through digital manipulation. CGI sharks look as realistic as required though, getting a great boost from being underwater at a dark depth where murkiness is on the menu.
The film doesn’t demand that thinking caps come all the way off. Yet when you realize “47 Meters Down” aims to be an uncomplicated summertime thriller best consumed with a box of Milk Duds, it’s easy to settle into its style of suspense. Improbability is matched by equal amounts of imagination for scenes that can be graphic, gruesome, and always up for delivering nailbiting tension.
There is neither reason nor incentive to expect the film to be more than it is. “47 Meters Down” is the best movie it can be under the circumstances. That comes from the combined commitment of Claire Holt, Mandy Moore, and director Johannes Roberts to be as entertaining as possible on a modest budget with slim scripting. They give it all they have and succeed. If nothing else, I’ll take “47 Meters Down” over “The Shallows” (review here) as far as circling shark survival thrillers go.
Review Score: 70