UK Release Date: 27th November 2017
Runtime: 89 minutes
Director: Johannes Roberts
Writer: Johannes Roberts, Ernest Riera
Starring: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine, Chris J Johnson, Yani Gellman, Santiago A Segura
Synopsis: Two women are talked into going cage diving with sharks by a pair of local men they meet on holiday but, when the cable snaps, they plummet to the seabed as the predators circle.
Arriving right in the heart of summer blockbuster season earlier this year, 47 Metres Down proved to be a surprisingly effective horror movie that struck a balance between the threat of circling sharks and the considerably more palpable tension of a dwindling oxygen supply. It has now arrived on DVD in the UK and, for the most part, it still holds together as a tense underwater horror with the reliable shock value of a shark attack forever lurking in the back pocket of its wetsuit.
It’s not a movie that works particularly hard in avoiding basic horror tropes. The central conceit, of tourists Mandy Moore and Claire Holt taking a trip on a dodgy Mexican boat to go shark diving, is straight from the genre playbook, right down to the obviously rusty cage and Matthew Modine‘s grizzled, taciturn captain. Soon, there are illegal buckets of chum in the water and 20-foot fish parading in circuits around the barely seaworthy vessel. So far, so formula. When the winch snaps and their cage tumbles to the seabed, the characters are the only ones who are surprised.
Fortunately for the film, Moore and Holt are more than up to the task of fleshing out the rather basic premise. Free-spirited Kate (Holt) is keen to talk her more uptight sister (Moore) into trying something new. Moore, a long way from her best known role as the star of Disney musical Tangled, does a decent job as the more scared of the two, whose boyfriend has just dumped her, in rather on-the-nose fashion, for being too boring. The dynamic between the sisters is interesting and the two actors sell it nicely, even though Roberts’s script occasionally has a desire to over-simplify the emotional scenes between them.
Indeed, the script in general is incredibly heavy on exposition. Roberts is obviously aware that diving is something completely alien to a large segment of the audience and so he has a tendency to explain several of the film’s main concepts in rather laborious detail. It’s certainly true that a Friday night movie crowd may not be familiar with the dangers of ‘the bends’ or the hallucinatory impact of nitrogen narcosis, but Modine’s character is often saddled with dialogue that sounds like he’s reading it from Wikipedia.
This all feels small fry, though, given the tension Roberts is able to create throughout 47 Metres Down. The vast expanse of open water still feels claustrophobic and the presence of the sharks is felt often enough that any journey outside of the cage feels pregnant with the risk of a deadly attack. This film doesn’t quite have the cheesy thrills of last year’s shark movie The Shallows, but it’s far more successful as a straightforward tension-builder. Even on a second viewing, there’s a white-knuckle feel to its more exciting scenes.
Unfortunately, the biggest flaw of the film – its have-your-chum-and-eat-it ending – is present and correct on a rewatch and actually all the more annoying. It’s a lame scriptwriting trick that comes across as a filmmaker trying to inject some tension into an ending that, when it ultimately arrives, is actually rather pedestrian. Roberts goes not for the most happy of endings, nor for the most bleak and, with that in mind, 47 Metres Down ends with a whimper and appears to have, rather ironically lost its teeth.
Some brief, but interesting interviews with Roberts, Holt and Moore about the difficulties of shooting underwater and the dynamic between the central characters.
Pop or Poop?
If you’re in search of a 90-minute hit of underwater tension, 47 Metres Down is a compelling and entertaining movie that crafts a pair of characters who are likeable. When it puts them into a life or death situation, you find yourself rooting for their survival, right up until the damp squib of an ending.
Occasional overdoses of exposition and a few too many tropes are thankfully not enough to lead this one to sink completely.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
47 Metres Down is available on DVD and download in the UK now, courtesy of Entertainment One.