When it comes to horror movies, one of the age old problems of the genre is ‘why don’t the characters just leave?’ Numerous films have managed to find clever ways and scenarios to keep their potential victims trapped, such as ALIEN being set in an isolated spaceship or THE SHINING being in a snowbound hotel. But perhaps one of the more difficult scenarios to keep interesting has been shark attack movies. Sharks are only scary if you’re in the water with them, after all. JAWS mainly had a conflict with the shark due to tourists being eaten being bad for beach business. Now, 47 METERS DOWN gives a plausible and outright terrifying scenario to be swimming with the fishes.
The story follows Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt), sisters looking for some adventure on the Mexican coast in the wake of Lisa’s boyfriend leaving her. Talking with some local guys, the more reckless Kate suggests they take them up on an offer to go cage diving with real live great white sharks. Though reluctant, Lisa joins the venture. The siblings taking the not quite tourism board approved boat out to sea, stepping in a rusty cage, and dropped into the deep. Their guides promising a big show thanks to some well placed chum. What was sure to be a vacation memory of a lifetime turns into a nightmare when the winch breaks and they find themselves plunged 47 meters below the ocean’s surface. Running low on air, surrounded by predatory sharks, and having to be careful about getting the dreaded ‘bends’ Kate and Lisa must find a way to survive.
Sometimes the most simple premise can be the most intriguing, and 47 METERS DOWN is proof. Two divers stuck in a cage and sharks. The backstory involving Kate and Lisa’s trip doesn’t drag on too long, and a majority of the movie is implicitly underwater, making for some beautiful and threatening cinematography. It’s almost like the sisters are in space with how open yet desolate their environment is. Never known whether a shark will swoop in from above, from below, or from behind to take a bite. Tension is built up quite well in that regard, and also that sharks are only one of the many dangers Lisa and Kate face.
Along with cinema’s greatest aquatic predator, they have to watch their air supply, their wounds, and maintain their pressure. For if they ascend the surface too fast, nitrogen bubbles in their bodies will kill them. Things play out like a classic disaster movie based on Murphy’s law, where anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Another interesting aspect of the story being that both divers are equipped with equipment that also allows them to communicate with one another via radio. Also keeping them in touch with the captain above… but they have to ascend several meters in the murky waters to make contact. Creating danger with every action.
Mandy Moore and Claire Holt work well together as sisters, and they make their fear of the danger, and in particular the sharks, quite believable. And since for the most part we’re following their underwater struggle, it’s a major focus of the story.
Though a strong concept and great pacing, the movie does falter in several spots. The dialogue felt rather wooden and weak in a lot of places. Many times Lisa or Kate will say over and over again how scared they are… as if it wasn’t implicit enough that being chased by sharks or marooned at the bottom of the ocean wasn’t already. As well as becoming repetitive. The pacing was pretty good for a thriller, but would probably turn away someone looking for an adrenaline rush. The ending was pretty interesting and different, but at the same time felt a bit too abrupt and maybe annoying to some. While the FX were for the most part pretty well done, there are more than a few times that the sharks look just a little ‘too’ computer generated.
Despite its flaws, 47 METERS DOWN manages to be a decent and unique thriller. Since every Summer needs a shark movie, and if you’re looking for some seasonal horror, this is well worth a watch.