Conflicted as to whether or not to see 47 Meters Down? You gotta ask yourself, "What do I want from my shark movie?"
This is not to say that 47 Meters Down is a crappy movie. It's no Jaws, but then again, neither is anything else. It's a cheap shark flick that at least has the decency to keep the sharks mean and underwater and not have them become super-intelligent or fly through the air. Sharknado, I'm looking at you. It respects the audience's intelligence enough to wear a fig leaf of reality so as not to openly offend our suspension of disbelief — at least until it doesn't.
Two sisters, Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are on a beach vacation in Mexico. The trip began as a girls' outing, but Lisa's expanding dark mood alerts her sister to something wrong. Seems Lisa's boyfriend is moving out. Kate tries to cheer Lisa up by taking her out clubbing, where they meet a couple of guys, Louis (Yani Gellman) and Javier (Chris Johnson), who are hot to trot. The next day, the guys invite them to go on a shark dive. Hoping to spark a palate-cleansing fling for Lisa, Kate pressures her sister into going along, even though it's clear that the thought of being trapped in a cage under the Gulf of Mexico surrounded by sharks scares her to death.
Despite her horrible taste in corporate alt-rock, Lisa seems like a nice sort. Maybe shark diving isn't for everyone, but Lisa bends to Kate's pressure. After all, it's a tourist thing, so it must be safe. And not only are Louis and Javier super-cute, but when they get to the dock, they discover the captain is Matthew Modine. But as they're boarding the SS Hunk Boat, it's clear that it's just an old rust bucket on its last sea legs. Captain Modine takes the aging trawler out of sight of land and illegally chums the water before sending the girls down for some sightseeing.
- Claire Holt (left) and Mandy Moore play a pair of sisters struggling to survive in shark-infested waters.
None of these are good ideas, but good ideas don't get us to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, trapped in a broken cage, surrounded by hungry sharks. That's where writer/director Johannes Roberts wants to go with his intrepid camera crew. The underwater photography is the highlight of 47 Meters Down. It's almost like Roberts watched Gravity and said, like a true B-movie auteur, "I can do that underwater, much cheaper, and also with sharks!"
But as anyone who has worked with James Cameron will tell you, shooting underwater is no joke. Moore and Holt seem game for anything and have to be commended for a pair of brave performances in what look like actual life-threatening conditions. The way to keep costs down in these movies is to limit their scope, and Roberts and crew wring out every last dramatic situation they can think of that involves two women on the bottom of the ocean.
Which brings us to 47 Meters Down's ultimate downfall. I'm about to spoil the ending, so if you care about such things, stop reading now and just go see the stupid shark movie.
After coasting along for an hour or so of fairly impressive shark-related jump scares, 47 Meters Down commits what is, to my mind, the deadliest narrative sin. Writer/director Johannes Roberts pulls an "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." In that 1890 short story, Ambrose Bierce spins a tale of daring escape by a condemned Civil War soldier, only to reveal at the end that everything that has transpired was the dying hallucination of a hanged man. The "It's all been a dream!" move is a direct betrayal of the trust the audience puts in a storyteller. Even for a movie dedicated to cheap thrills, it's the cheapest trick of all. Judging from the collective groan that went up at the end of 47 Meters Down, audiences know when they've been had, and they don't like it.