A semi-decent ad to remind us to Yelp tourist attractions in foreign countries.
Since Jaws, summer has always been a welcome home to movies about the terrors which infest the very places we like to go when we wanna take a few days off, relax, and blow off some steam. While some films have achieved great critical and commercial success with this model, like last year’s The Shallows, there are countless others who, much like these beasts of the deep, glide underneath the surface hoping to capitalize on a small budget, some B-movie camp, and a desire to see attractive people get hurt.
47 Meters Down survives somewhere in the latter.
Relative newcomer to the camera Johannes Roberts, who previously directed the promising, but ultimately underwhelming The Other Side of the Door, finds a pleasing middle ground in this grindhouse feature which makes great use of its claustrophobic and simple premise while maintaining enough cheese to keep hardcore genre fans interested. What the film lacks in character depth, it makes up for in tightly wound, suspenseful sequences in the murky ocean floor as our heroines, played by Mandy Moore and Claire Holt, struggle to survive while they await help from up above. The film thrives in this setting, as air tanks continue to dwindle in oxygen, and our ladies are forced to push themselves out into harm’s way amongst 25-foot great whites that they can’t see. The paranoia sets in incredibly quick – challenging us as moviegoers to empathize with the vapid, basic, pumpkin spice-ness of these two sisters as they freak out over what to do next before they cave in to oxygen deprived deliriousness.
Roberts’ careful and meticulous plotting of what to do next and how to do it, based on his characters’ situational awareness, makes each sequence feel like elegant splash pages that captivate. This is especially true during the film’s climax: a mad dash from the ocean floor to the surface with hungry, unseen predators above, our heroines bleeding out like fresh bait, and knowing they’ll have to stop to allow their bodies to decompress.
It’s during the intermittent periods of character building, however, where this film struggles to tread water. It’s forgivable given the film’s premise and what it’s promising to moviegoers, but feels somewhat forced onto us as if we intrinsically have to care about every girl who has ever been broken up with. It makes our connection to Moore’s character, despite the trials and tribulations she’s facing, shockingly artificial. It makes her relationship with Holt seem abhorrently one-dimensional. Even when we’re convinced they’re about to be fish food, would we be compelled to care if they got eaten? Or would it be like, “Welp – that sucks.”
Sure, we came to see the sharks terrorize these young women, but in a world of tense, claustrophobic genre pictures like The Descent, The Shallows, or even Deep Blue Sea to a certain extent, there should be no reason to put believability and subtlety of character on the back burner. And with a polarizing finale, the film almost comes across as a cheat despite how enjoyable it can be. It disappointingly begs the question, “Does the action in the film feel earned with how lame these sisters are?”
With Johannes Roberts’ name above the title in the credits, it gives the impression he’s aiming for the fences trying to be another Carpenter or Hitchcock. He clearly has a good eye and an evolving style, but a master of suspense needs characters who are believable with motivations rooted in who they are as people; our heroes need to feel lived in. Roberts has a great time setting up the tension, but can’t seem to find the heart in his characters, which makes the sharks in 47 Meters Down more likable than their snacks.
“47 Meters Down” is directed by Johannes Roberts and stars Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, and Matthew Modine. It is rated PG-13 for for sequences of intense peril, bloody images, and brief strong language.
Review by Zachary Lego