47 Meters Down

Director: Johannes Roberts
Screenplay: Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera
Stars: Mandy Moore (Lisa), Claire Holt (Cate), Chris Johnson (Javier), Yani Gellman (Louis), Santiago Segura (Benjamin), Matthew Modine (Captain Taylor)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2017
Country: U.S. / U.K. / Dominican Republic
47 Meters Down
47 Meters Down

The title of 47 Meters Down refers to the ocean depth at which the film’s protagonists, two American sisters on a beach vacation in Mexico, spend the second half of the film. The sisters, Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Cate (Claire Holt), accept an invitation from two men they meet clubbing one night (Yani Gellman and Santiago Segura) to go on a cage dive. The dive promises all kinds of adventure and thrills, a particularly enticing prospect for Lisa, who is shaking off a recent break-up and fears that she is too “boring” to be in a relationship. Cate, the younger and more daring of the two (and also the one with diving experience), is all in favor of going, while Lisa expresses some understandable reservations, especially when she sees the rickety boat that will take them out to the ocean and the rusty cage that will take them into it.

But, as is often the case, reasonable concern is set aside in favor of promised thrills, and while their initial descent (just five meters) into the water proves to be exactly what was promised as they watch schools of fish and enormous great white sharks swim past them, things go literally south with the wench mechanism holding the cage to the boat gives way and it all plummets the titular 47 meters down to the sea floor. Trapped inside the cage by the fallen crane, running low on air, and surrounded by more than a few hungry sharks that have been riled up by chumming the waters with blood and fish heads (which, it is pointed out, is illegal), Lisa and Cate are trapped in a classic struggle for survival against elements that are far beyond their power to control. The sharks keep them pinned to the ocean floor, while their dwindling air supply makes it imperative that they find a way to escape soon. Plus, the laws of physics ensure that they can’t make a fast ascent, lest they get “the bends” in which nitrogen bubbles form in their blood, causing certain death (a fact of which they—and us—are reminded more than a few times). They have a tenuous connection to the boat above them, as they can maintain some radio contact with its captain (Matthew Modine) and his first mate (Chris Johnson), who assist them as best they can, but the deck appears to be stacked against their making it to the surface alive.

47 Meters does exactly what it needs to do in setting up a precarious situation, trapping its protagonists, and then forcing us to endure their panic, fear, resilience, and hope, the latter of which is more often than not dashed at just the wrong moment. It belongs to a tried-and-true subgenre of thrillers in which a small group of people find themselves trapped in a perilous situation from which they must escape in a short period of time. We’ve seen it recently in Jeremy Saulnier’s grisly Green Room (2016), in which a punk rock band is trapped inside a backwoods club by its neo-Nazi owners, although it arguably hit its zenith back in the ’70s with various disaster movies that trapped people inside upside-down cruise ships (1972’s The Poseidon Adventure) and burning high rises (1974’s The Towering Inferno). It has become a particularly popular genre in the made-for-video market (one of the more creative and odd entries in this arena is Adam Green’s 2010 Frozen—not to be confused with the Disney musical, of course—about a group of skiers trapped overnight on a ski lift in subfreezing temperatures), thus it shouldn’t be of much surprise that 47 Meters Down was originally destined for the VOD market under the title In the Deep before it was bought and given a theatrical distribution. It’s a good thing, too, since the film’s widescreen images of underwater entrapment play much better on the big screen.

I am not familiar with British co-writer/director Johannes Roberts’s previous works, although he must be of some importance since he bills the film’s title as his possessive, thus suggesting the kind of authorial stamp associated with someone like Alfred Hitchcock (or, in a more relevant comparison, John Carpenter). Roberts certainly has panache, and he makes what is essentially a static situation consistently interesting from a visual standpoint with a mixture of aggressive camera movement, intense close-ups, and disorienting point-of-view shots. He gets good performances from Mandy Moore and Claire Holt, neither of whom is playing a particularly deep character, but both of whom bring just enough divergent character traits to make their actions and decisions interesting and sometimes unexpected.

Where Roberts really excels, though, is in making the ocean itself the film’s most frightening entity. Much attention will be paid to the sharks, of course, and their constant off-screen presence haunts even the most seemingly benign moments (they do get a good dose of screen time, but Roberts never overdoes it). However, what is really terrifying is the great, expansive void of ocean in which Lisa and Cate are trapped, never so much so as when Lisa must swim out of the cage to retrieve something and is forced to swim over a vast chasm, the depths and contents of which are completely unknown. As Steven Spielberg noted about his perennial classic Jaws (1975), “I’m not so much afraid of sharks. I’m afraid of the water and I’m afraid of everything that exists under the water that I can’t see.”

Copyright © 2017 James Kendrick

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Overall Rating: (3)



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