SLAVE TO THE CAGE
47 METRES DOWN (15)
Director: Johannes Roberts
Screenplay: Johannes Roberts, Ernest Riera
Starring: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine
Review: RJ Bland
Sharks. They've got to be up there on a lot of people's 'most terrifying things out there' lists (along with heights, being buried alive and whitewalkers). They've entered our collective psyche as an underwater 'evil'. Truth be told, they've got more reason to fear us – we kill them by the million every year. And whilst films like Jaws aren't to 'blame' for this kind of thing, it's probably not unreasonable to assume that our sympathies for sharks has been on the wane until relatively recently. We may be making some effort to save them from extinction (yes the Great White is now classified as 'vulnerable') but that doesn't mean they have lost their fear factor. Far from it – in fact, shark movies have been on the up. Last year we were treated to the enjoyable The Shallows and previous to that we had titles such as Open Water, The Reef and Shark Night. We also have the outrageously dumb Sharknado franchise too, but the less said about that the better. This year, out sea based horror comes in the form of 47 Metres Down, Director Johannes Roberts' latest genre offering.
Lisa and Kate are two sisters who are enjoying a holiday in sunny Mexico. Although they are obviously close, they are very different people. Lisa (Mandy Moore) is the sensible one, whilst her sister (Claire Holt) is a bit of a free-spirit. The trip is thrown into turmoil early days though as Lisa reveals that the reason her boyfriend isn't on the trip is not because he is away for business as previously stated, he has in fact dumped her. And one of the main reasons cited is that Lisa is just a bit too boring. Determined to make her sister forget about her relationship issues, Kate takes her out to a bar and we are treated to the usual montage of loud music, young people whooping and doing shots (god I feel old writing that sentence) and a bit of flirting with a couple of handsome Mexican dudes.
After getting to know them a bit better, they are invited out on a boat trip. However, this is no ordinary boat trip. No, it's the kind where you get into a cage and are lowered into the ocean whilst big ass sharks circle around you. As expected, Lisa isn't keen – but after some goading from her sibling, she relents. Once inside the cage and lowered underwater, their initial nerves soon disappear as they are treated to a breathtaking view of shoals of fish and clear water. The appearance of a great white only adds to their excitement. Unfortunately for them, the cable attaching the cage to the boat breaks and they are sent plummeting down to the ocean floor below – 47 metres down precise. With no way of contacting the guys on the boat above, their oxygen supply gradually running out and a pack of big ol' sharks outside their cage, they're in a bit of a pickle.
Jaws this isn't. However, no shark movie ever made since that 75 classic has really come close to reaching those standards. However, 47 Metres Down is still a fun ride.
The two leads are fine. Mandy Moore occasionally overdoes it as the nervy older sister whilst Claire Holt (who was great in Aquarius) gives a performance that's a little more refined. Everyone else here is background noise. Some of the dialogue that Roberts and his co-writer Ernest Riera give their leads are a little too on the nose at times but to be honest, one the sharks appear, any focus on dialogue is a little perfunctory.
What Roberts does do well is to create an effective sense of terror and panic on screen. Once that cage has plummeted to the ocean floor we are in nightmare territory for a lot of audience members (myself included) and the director does his best to extract as much tension as possible from the following 60 minutes or so. On one hand it feels almost claustrophobic – for initially they are locked inside the cage with no escape – and their oxygen supply is diminishing by the minute. But outside the cage, it's the unknown dangers that are potentially lurking in the vast darkness that really send shivers down the spine. Yes sharks are terrifying but it's that fear of the unknown, the fear of the dark that almost every human can connect with. And if you think it's a case of just 'making a break for it' and swimming for the surface, think again because you have the dreaded bends to contend with. Most people will be going into 47 Metres Down expecting and hoping for some underwater tension and on that front it doesn't disappoint.
There is a twist in the tale quite late in the day – although the perceptive amongst you will have seen it signposted earlier on in the movie. Roberts does his best to cover his tracks and throw us off the scent but ultimately the change in direction probably won't spoil or enhance your overall view of the movie. If you were enjoying the first 70 minute of the movie, what happens in the last 20 won't ruin it for you. This isn't The Village.
The CGI sharks themselves are nicely realised and we never really see too much of them – something that The Shallows was guilty of on the odd occasion. However the flip side of that is the sharks are never quite as frightening an on-screen presence as they perhaps could have been. The more understated approach (and the CGI) result in serviceable sharkyness but nothing much more than that.
However, unlike the title of the film, the film lacks a little depth. The characters are functionally fleshed out but no more than that. How much you are able to root for a character who is willing to get into a cage and be lowered into shark infested waters just to show her ex-boyfriend she's not 'boring' will depend on what you are looking for from this movie. If it's some toothy shark fun, you won't be disappointed. If it's well-written characters then you will be. But then who goes into a shark movie looking for that anyway?