“It’s like you’re going to the zoo only you’re in the cage”
There’s this great moment towards the end of 47 Meters Down when a flare ignites to reveal a trio of sharks circling Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt). It’s a beautiful image in its horrific content: warm colors illuminating the cool dark blue hiding these fearsome creatures on the hunt. I mention it because it’s all I’m likely to remember come tomorrow of what’s an otherwise forgettable survival tale built on convenience without a shred of suspense, drama, or comedy despite many audience members finding the second half hilarious in its ability to always find reason to prolong the inevitable. It wants to be serious enough to scare us, but its only shock is placing director Johannes Roberts‘ name above the title as though it adds legitimacy.
This was in fact the only chuckle I emitted since the rest of the film chugged along like it was wading through molasses on its way towards obvious twists and turns. I have to imagine this is exactly what Harvey and Bob Weinstein thought too considering they were set to release it direct-to-DVD and VOD in August of last year. For once these brothers known for shelving great art or hacking it to pieces were correct to second-guess the release’s box office potential and were even rewarded once Entertainment Studios (an entity known for courtroom TV whose website showcases the fact they bid on and lost the fight for Birth of a Nation) bought the rights. And now almost a full year later it’s poised for cinematic infamy.
It’s a walking talking cliché attempting to make us care about two sisters who do all they can to ensure we don’t. If they were two rich kids on vacation in search of uninhibited Mexican fun I could see myself investing in their fish-out-of-water hubris and ultimate comeuppance. But Roberts and his cowriter Ernest Riera are more interested in projecting motivations than letting the situation succeed on its own merits. They attempt to earn sympathy by rendering one a recent dumpee for being “too boring.” It might have worked if her sister mirrored that empathetic compassion instead of throwing it in her face. Sister One: “I want to go shark diving!” Sister Two: “No, I’m too scared!” Sister One: “Don’t be so boring! Let’s make your ex jealous!”
Kate is conveniently well-versed in all things SCUBA because she’s young, cool, and hip. Lisa is conveniently unversed in the same because the filmmakers need a reason for Matthew Modine‘s Captain Taylor to constantly repeat, “Don’t race to the surface or you’ll get the bends!” Don’t know what the bends (decompression disease) is? Don’t worry because you’ll get a crash course just as Lisa does. But it’s not sprinkled in as color or another thing to fear alongside the sharks once the girls’ cage breaks loose from its wench and plummets to the ocean floor … forty-seven meters down. No, the bends is mentioned because of a very specific side effect that’s spoken about with enough earnest severity to make sure any attempt at a twist is moot.
Will they be saved? Will they die? Are we interested? The third question is the most relevant one because I surely was not. In my opinion they deserved to die for walking straight into a situation their own dialogue admits is risky and exactly what you shouldn’t do in a country known for kidnapping tourists. Hell, it’d be twice as interesting if Taylor and his two young friends Louis (Yani Gellman) and Benjamin (Santiago Segura)—who seduced the girls into going—turned out to be villains torturing Lisa and Kate rather than the only hope of them surviving a terrible tragedy. Any sort of subversion of the genre’s norms would have been welcome because without it we’re simply watching paint dry as everything that can go wrong does.
It hardly helps that common sense logistics are warped into plot contrivance. Why do the boys go in together first and then the girls rather than pairing their would-be lovers off so it’s one novice and one expert each? Why does the sister panicking have more than twice the air left of the sister who isn’t? Why does what appears to be a linear shot in real time see their air lower by half just before a much longer scene with the girls separated and tensely worried shows it barely budging? Don’t tell me I must suspend my disbelief either since Roberts never provides us anything to suspend it for. The plot unfolds so matter-of-factly that we have nothing to do but poke holes. The waiting is excruciating.
One ordeal comes and another goes: escape the cage, communicate with Taylor, wait for help, and help themselves. Sharks come by to say hello, beacons of light shine with optimism and pessimism in the same thought, and tools necessary to prolong their lives only arrive when it services the story’s desire to not yet end. Modine’s character becomes relegated to intercom guide disseminating information and barking orders as though he’s sitting pretty at the controls of an amusement park ride. He’s the voice of God going through his checklist one at a time instead of all at once because he apparently doesn’t believe the situation is as dire as it is. It’s like he knows he’s in a movie and is working hard to hit that 80-minute mark.
Will the “strong” sister save them or will the “weak” sister rise to the occasion with back against the wall? Will they have the opportunity to express their mutual love and jealousies before it’s too late? 47 Meters Down is in desperate need of a Deep Blue Sea moment (you know the one) to shake us from our complacency with the unexpected. Its absence is glaring. The conclusion tries its best, but we see it coming far enough in advance to render our anger at the setup not being fulfilled a better result than the eye-roll its appearance finally earns. We can’t worry about Lisa and Kate because we’re only thirty, fifty, seventy minutes in. It’s never time for honest stakes and therefore never time to care.
Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 89 minutes | Release Date: June 16th, 2017 (USA)
Studio: Dimension Films / Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures
Director(s): Johannes Roberts
Writer(s): Johannes Roberts & Ernest Riera