For most people, simply being in the water near sharks is enough of a nightmare. Being forty-seven meters (154.2 feet for my fellow Americans) under the surface, bleeding, and with sharks circling is whole different beast. In 47 Meters Down, writer/director Johannes Roberts takes this seemingly simple narrative setup and wrings copious amounts of tension out of it. Originally slated for a VOD release in 2016 through Dimension Films, the movie was picked up in July of that year by Entertainment Studios for a theatrical release. The reasons are not unfounded. 47 Meters Down is an impressive picture from a technical perspective. It’s a shame the dialogue isn’t given the same consideration.
Fresh off an ugly break-up in which her boyfriend said she was too boring, Lisa (Moore) decides to take a Mexican vacation with her globe-trotting, exciting sister, Kate (Holt). During a night out partying, the two meet Louis (Gellman) and Benjamin (Segura). They’re two friendly and helpful locals that tell the women of how exciting it is to dive with sharks – in the safe confines of a cage, of course. They even know a guy (Modine) with a boat that can hook them up with an inexpensive and adventuresome day on the high seas. Kate needs little convincing, but Lisa is very reluctant. After determining that doing this would be the exact opposite of boring (“imagine the pictures!”), she agrees. This is despite the fact that the boat can generously be described as weathered and the cage just a bit rusty. As the two are lowered several meters below the surface, the frayed cable supporting them breaks, plunging the cage to the ocean floor. Out of radio contact, in near-darkness, and in the company of sharks, the two must find a way to survive as each breath taken depletes their oxygen supply.
Filmed primarily in the 60,546-square-foot water tank at Pinewood Dominican Republic Studios, 47 Meters Down certainly feels visually authentic. Roberts is thoroughly skilled at utilizing this space both as a claustrophobic and open water horror. Add to this some very convincing sharks (all the credit to Outpost VFX for pulling this off) and you have the kind of atmosphere that gives people cold sweats. Unfortunately, Roberts and co-writer Ernest Riera populate the story with characters that make questionable decisions and speak frequently cheesy dialogue. The boat and cage may be a ramshackled mess, but Lisa and Kate are outfitted with state-of-the-art scuba gear complete with crystal clear radio contact between them. While not a full-on plot contrivance, it does lead to a ton of dialogue in which both women must describe exactly what we, the audience, are seeing. It gets redundant in a hurry, especially when it sounds like Moore’s dialogue in these scenes was recorded post-production. To its credit, 47 Meters Down really goes for the gusto with an unexpected, twisty final ten minutes.
While not as personal or raw as something like 2003’s Open Water, 47 Meters Down nevertheless holds its own as an effective machine for deep water thrills. Moore and Holt are both serviceable as the co-leads, even if the set-up is too quick to form a solid emotional attachment to either. The problems with the film are all at the dialogue level. It seems more than likely a lot of summer audiences will trade that in for some legit jolts in a technologically marvelous location. That’s where 47 Meters Down goes to work and gets the job done.
Studio: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures
Length: 89 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense peril, bloody images, and brief strong language.
Theatrical Release: June 16, 2017
Directed by: Johannes Roberts
Written by: Johannes Roberts & Ernest Riera
Cast: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine, Yani Gellman, Santiago Segura