Film Review: 47 Meters Down

by Carrie Kahn on June 16, 2017

Imperfect shark tale still has some bite  

Cage diving with sharks is fun…  until the rope breaks and the cage plummets.

Spinning Platters recently hosted its first music trivia event at SOMA StrEat Food Park, but if you missed it, have no fear – others are on the horizon. And to (ahem) tide you over, here’s a brief little summer movie quiz: match the tagline with its corresponding shark attack movie:

TAGLINES                                                          MOVIES

1.) Don’t go in the water                                  a.) Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)

2.) Pray that you drown first                             b.) The Shallows (2016)

3.) Stay out of the water                                  c.) Jaws (1975)                       

4.) Shark happens!                                           d.) The Reef (2010)

5.) Who will save you?                                     e.) 47 Meters Down (2017)

6.) Not just another day at the beach               f.) Open Water (2003)

Answers are at the bottom of the review*, but, in the meantime, let’s take a look at letter “e”, the newest shark movie on our list. In the pantheon of shark movies, British horror director Johannes Roberts’s 47 Meters Down ranks somewhere above Sharknado 2 and last year’s Blake Lively-Talks-to-A-Seagull picture (AKA The Shallows), but well below the 1975 standard bearer Jaws and the chilling Sundance indie hit Open Water.

This is not to say that Roberts and his screenwriting partner Ernest Riera (the two also collaborated on last year’s thriller The Other Side of the Door) haven’t delivered some genuine scream-inducing, jump-out-of-your seat scares. They have. But these moments are few and far between in a story filled with cringe worthy, clunky dialog (“I’m so scared!” should have been retired after The Blair Witch Project), unsympathetic, one note characters, and an overarching plot so full of holes you’d think the picture itself was in danger of drowning.

Roberts and Riera present us the tale of two sisters on vacation in Mexico. Lisa (Mandy Moore) is the goody-two-shoes, sensible scaredy-cat; her only accomplishment seems to be that she had a boyfriend, up until he dumped her for being “boring.” Kate (Claire Holt) is the bolder, fun, party girl; her goal is to get Lisa to make her ex jealous by forcing Lisa to participate in activities she really doesn’t want to do – like cage diving with sharks. That Kate’s method of comforting her sister is to psychologically manipulate Lisa into risky ventures by subtly underscoring the ex’s criticisms of Lisa (as opposed to, say, offering to take a long walk, have some tea, and just you know, be there for her sister), immediately makes us dislike Kate, and question her capacity for empathy as both a sister and as a human being.

Sisters Kate (Claire Holt, l.) and Lisa (Mandy Moore) naively await their cage diving adventure.

In any case, at the suggestion of two local dudes our heroines meet while out partying at 1:00am (always a legit source of tourist info), Kate succeeds in getting the fearful Lisa on a rickety boat run by the laid back Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine), in a somewhat shady operation that surely isn’t written up in the current edition of Lonely Planet. Lisa, in fact, questions the ethics and legality of Taylor’s throwing chum into the water to attract sharks; Taylor of course just shrugs off her concern in an “everyone does it” kind of way.

Suffice to say the rope securing the cage that holds our adventure seeking pair is as janky as the boat to which it’s attached, and, before you know it, it breaks, and Kate and Lisa are submerged – wait for it – 47 meters down on the bottom of the ocean, panicking, running out of oxygen, and surrounded by 20 foot sharks in a frenzy, thanks to Captain Taylor’s free chum meal.

The sisters watch the digital read of their declining oxygen levels the way most of us keep an eagle eye on our dropping cell phone battery percentage; for them, though, the stakes are life and death, and not just inconvenience. Racing against the clock then, the remainder of the fairly tight 89 minute movie stays with the sisters as they devise various plans for communicating with the boat, avoiding and fighting off the sharks, preserving oxygen, and, ultimately, surviving and getting rescued in spite of an ocean’s worth of setbacks and perils.

Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine) lowers the sisters into the water.

The film’s best moments are these tension-filled ones with the sisters underwater; the initial set-up scenes are cliché-ridden and down right dopey, so Roberts thankfully at least gets us to the good stuff pretty quickly. Our on shore preface, for example, features a heavy handed foreshadowing moment of spilled red wine in a swimming pool (Ooooh! Symbolism!), and a dance party montage that I swear was taken straight from the ending of last month’s Snatched. And of course when Kate tells Lisa, “It’s gonna be the best time ever!” that’s your cue to buckle up and wait for the gals to finish dancing and put the scuba gear on.

Of course the sisters get themselves in a lot of situations that are foolish at best and unrealistic at worst, but knowing the sharks (which actually look pretty menacing; kudos to the CGI team here) can strike at any minute ratchets up the tension and makes some of the picture’s weaker plot points slightly more forgivable. The one unforgivable misstep, however, is the picture’s ending; no spoilers here, but let’s just say the film has a definitive point at which it should have ended that would have done it justice, and redeemed it from some of its silliness. But instead of ending on that “wow” moment, Riera and Roberts extend the movie a little bit longer, taking it to a place that is both improbable and deeply (no pun intended) unsatisfying.

But hey – this isn’t Oscar bait (pun intended). It’s lightweight summertime cinema fun, and although it doesn’t have Blake Lively narrating her every move to Steven Seagull, it does have some cool underwater shots and some genuine OMG! moments that will have you clutching the arm of your viewing companion. And, as a bonus, you’ll save money on those diving lessons you’ll no doubt want to cancel after viewing this picture. Nobody likes swimsuit shopping anyway.


*Shark Movie Trivia Answers: 1-c; 2-d; 3-e; 4-a; 5-f; 6-b

47 Meters Down opens today at Bay Area theaters.

Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll. Proud new member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

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