Summer is finally upon us, and with it come some of America’s favorite pastimes; grilling meat that will someday kill us, taking vacations we can’t afford, and that most hallowed of all TV holidays: Shark Week. It just wouldn’t be summer without momentarily obsessing over those beautiful, toothy death machines from the safety and comfort of our own living rooms. 47 Meters Down taps into that fascination like a neighbor tapping into your cable box to get free HBO. It’s a movie that shamelessly exploits our morbid fascination with shark attack stories while constantly treating its audience like idiots.
While on vacation in Mexico, Lisa (Moore) and her sister Kate (Holt) meet two hot local dudes who talk them into going cage diving with some great white sharks. Everything about this seems sketchy to Lisa, up to and including the grizzled boat captain played by Matthew Modine. Lisa doesn’t even know how to scuba dive, which Modine picks up on right away and gives her a sixty-second crash course on how to not die underwater. (Don’t you have to be certified to go scuba diving? Yes, of course you do, and one of the guys even addresses this by shrugging “Hey, it’s Mexico!”) Once the girls don their scuba gear and hop in the cage, the chain snaps and sends them crashing down to the ocean floor. Help is on the way, but until then Lisa and Kate have to contend with some vicious sharks and a dwindling air supply.
47 Meters Down’s best feature is that the film takes place almost entirely underwater. Mark Silk’s cinematography presents us with a dark, murky seascape where anything can pop out at you at any moment. Sometimes that means a sudden shark attack, but more often than not it means the girls shine their flashlight directly into the camera. For as many unique establishing shots of the ocean depths as the film employs, it’s equally fond of playing things entirely in close-ups where it’s easier to cheat. The movie then uses these shots as an excuse to do a bunch of fast cuts when something scary happens to mask the fact that they really have no idea how to actually show it. A number of the shark attack sequences unfold this way, and it’s more headache-inducing than frightening.
Most of the scenes between Lisa and Kate play out this way, as the film cuts between close-ups of the girls talking through the radios in their masks. (Yet their ears are totally exposed, so how they’re able to hear each other, or even the guys on the boat, is beyond me.) Remembering which character is which becomes impossible, especially when one disappears from the movie for fifteen minutes or so, leaving us wondering which sister just met the business end of a great white. The easiest way to tell them apart is that Lisa spends the entire movie obsessing over her ex-boyfriend while Kate… doesn’t.
It’s more 127 Hours than Jaws, which is way more credit than it deserves. This movie gets more mileage out of our characters being trapped in a cage than out of the threat of being eaten by sharks. A couple of attacks are genuinely well executed—one sequence involving underwater flares brought the house down—but mostly the movie hits us over the head with dialogue about how much air the girls have left. “Oh my god, we’re running out of air,” is uttered about a dozen times. At a certain point, the blinking red light on Lisa’s air gauge becomes a bigger menace than the great white circling the cage.
Is there room for a decent shark attack movie anymore? Last year’s surprisingly solid The Shallows suggests that, yes, there is. (It’s probably the only reason we’re talking about this one right now.) But the way that movie builds suspense is practically Hitchcockian compared to 47 Meters Down, which finds one note and hammers it straight through your skull. Save for a third act turn that’s too stupid to be believed, there’s not enough here to recommend it to even bad movie aficionados. It’s too dopey for its own good, and not nearly as clever as it thinks it is.Liked This? Share It!