Sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are happily holidaying in Mexico when they're talked by some handsome locals into going on a cage dive with Great White sharks. All is going peachy until — as you'd expect — the cage cable snaps, sending them plummeting down to the ocean floor...
Sharks, as we well know, have been given a bad rep by cinema ever since Jaws first dur-durred across screens 42 years ago. But more recently, the horror-thriller has settled on an even bigger, deadlier bogey-thing: holidays. Honestly, after The Descent, Wolf Creek, Frozen (not that one), Hostel, and Paradise Lost — to name but a few — you might even be forgiven for using the word 'staycation'.
A fiendishly effective holiday-gone-wrong thriller.
47 Meters Down is a solid entry into the hellish-holiday (or, if we may, 'slaycation') sub-genre, and as you might guess from the above synopsis, it hoves closest to low-fi stranded-couple drama Open Water and last year's slickly efficient Blake Lively-versus-big fish thriller The Shallows. When it gets going, Brit writer-director Johannes Roberts (The Other Side Of The Door) wrings maximal seat-perching anxiety out of the minimal, contained and literally high-pressure situation which sees a pair of sisters trapped in a shark cage on the sea floor. Every breath counts, every scream and exertion robs them of precious air, and every drop of blood (of which there are many) attracts another peckish Great White from the big blue murk surrounding them.
You might imagine this makes for a horrifically claustrophobic atmosphere, but Roberts smartly goes for something at the other end of the fear-spectrum. It's the unending, opaque vastness of the ocean which unsettles the most; while that dodgy old cage is the source of all Lisa (Moore) and Kate's (Holt) watery woes, it's also the safest place they can be, given all the hungry, toothy mouths circling around and above them. It's whenever they need to venture out into all that dead-fish-bits-speckled blueness — say to investigate a nearby flashlight that might have a potential rescuer floating behind it, or retrieve fresh air tanks dropped from the Matthew Modine-captained boat above — that your knuckles really turn white. And it's not even like the girls can just swim upwards; if the sharks don't get 'em, we're reminded a few too many times, then the dreaded bends will.
It's a shame Roberts' character-crafting isn't anywhere near as artful as his tension-ratcheting. In fact, 47 Meters Down tosses out possibly the lamest motivation imaginable for Moore's sensible and likeably level-headed Lisa to be talked into this misadventure by her outgoing younger sis. She's just been dumped by her dick of a boyfriend, you see, who thinks she's a bit dull. So what better way to prove him wrong than by posting some selfies taken with Great Whites? "You're not gonna make Stuart jealous with photos inside a boat's bathroom," Kate even says at one point, to shake Lisa out of her pre-dive nerves.
Roberts and co-writer Ernest Riera also lay on the dramatic irony rather thickly. Cage-diving with sharks is, we're told, "totally safe"; Lisa is assured she's "gonna have the time of your life"; and when she first gets below the surface and the sharks (rendered via impressively unobvious CGI) start gliding by, she eye-rollingly squees, "I wanna stay down here forever!" Oh please.
Of course, Roberts isn't aiming for high art here, and a bit of cheese in the dialogue hardly spoils the big-silly-thrill-fun mood (you could make a case it actually adds to it). What's less certain is whether you'll swallow his end-game gambit, which audaciously throws down a narrative trick so bargain-bin cheap, it's more likely to leave you spluttering in disbelief than tensely holding your breath.
A fiendishly effective holiday-gone-wrong thriller that's better at cranking up the agoraphobic action than fleshing out its characters. Still, it'll find few fans at the Mexican Tourist Board...