47 Metres Down - Review: Deep Tension, Shallow Characters
There’s a problem with shark movies.... and we’re it. In the way, we seem to make sharks the great white exception when separating film fiction from fact. We watch a film about a human serial killer but afterwards we don’t look at all humans thinking they’re serial killers. Yet we see a film in which a shark selectively attacks people and come out assuming real sharks are the same. If that sounds dumb to you, congratulations, you’re awesome, but as someone who's spent a fistful of years working in an aquarium, I can tell you that a worrying amount of people have taken the likes of Jaws and Deep Blue Sea as factual (okay, Sharknado they get). When in fact, globally, barely 6 people a year are killed by sharks, more than double who are killed are killed by vending machines. The problem is not the films themselves but the fools that mistake them for documentaries. So if you check out the latest offering 47 Metres Down (for tense horror/thriller fans, I recommend you do), just remember: the sharks are acting too.
Sisters Lisa (Mandy More –Tangled, This Is Us) and Kate (Claire Hoult - The Vampire Diaries) are on holiday in Mexico and persuaded to try cage-diving. When their cage breaks, they're sent 47 metres down to the sea bed with only an hour of air and predators circling above..... they’ll wish they stayed at the hotel.
Once the film literally gets 47 metres down, and into its main story, it has a lot going for it but you’ll have to stay until that point. Following a creative horror parody opening, the film suddenly decides it would rather spend 20 minutes being a rom-com, complete with cheesy electro pop montages and over-written romantic subplots. Now ,the clear intent is survival horror 101. It’s a non-horror opening section to create audience investment in its leading ladies. Sadly little actually comes across in their shallow archetypes as, Lisa “the fun one” and Kate “the boring one”. Neither does Kate’s moping over her recent breakup (you guessed it.... he left saying she was boring) endear her or provide believable motivation for the shark-diving venture in making the ex jealous. So it’s important to know that beginning will not hook you in because the rest of the film is worth staying for.
Once the cage sinks, the film rises to the top of its game and creates some really intensity purely by focusing on its environment. While the aforementioned sharks do feature all the best moments come from simplicity of their bleak sea bed surroundings and possibility of a shark attack within the minimal visibility rather the attack itself. The story finds plausible reasons for the trapped pair to venture outside the cage like getting back into radio contact rage or collecting something sent from above. Every time comes with a grinding unnerving sense that something could happen at any moment as Johannes Roberts (The Other Side of the Door) twists the knife of suspense like his audience is a juicy buttered lobster.
In particular, some POV shots looking straight out into the almost nothingness will really have you on edge. It’s like being a car passenger on a quiet road at night and the driver suddenly switches the lights off (which a driving friend of mine thinks is hilarious to do and I can confirm is bloody terrifying!). Then there’s effective use of natural perils like suffocation such as dwindling air supplies or the constraints bulky diving equipment. One particular scene sees Lisa take off her tank and mask to fit through the bars and the simple act of her fiddling with the mask straps to get it back on again is one of the film’s most nerve-wrecking moments. Some elements suffer a little from repetition, and the final act is more predictable than a Littlefinger betrayal but overall, the film uses its setup successfully.
Yet unfortunately, despite the strength of the setting, there is consistent problem in this main bulk of the film. That is its two leads in the centre of it. At many points, they’re annoying to the point of detracting from the tension and horror narrative. Now they get some passes because we know this is a film and at many points they have to needlessly say what they’re doing for the purpose of storytelling. Even moments that seem dumb like stating they need to conserve oxygen only to have a heart-t-heart conversation can be forgiven because they need to fill the scene rather than just sitting there in silence. Yet in many cases you’ll wish they just shut the hell up as they’re needlessly shouting and screaming to one other about what’s going on when the visual storytelling is clear and strong enough to render it obsolete. Neither do their efforts at survival make us invested in their fate because unlike most survival horror films, there’s no feeling of consequence or significance among either character. Take its 2016 shark peril cousin, The Shallows. That film worked as a survival story because of how we witnessed Blake Lively’s character growing in strength through her ordeals. Whereas here, there’s no feeling that survival would leave either lady any different. While we constantly appreciate their peril and the danger of their circumstances; as characters, they are too shallow to register on a depth gage.
At the end of the day, I did still enjoy this film despite the ways it harpoon gun’s itself in the foot. Save a couple early Jurassic World worthy moments the shark depiction is passable. For horror/thriller fans, this is a familiar survival story that you’ll probably enjoy in a more unique setting with characters that you’ll forget by the time credits role. A decent disposable viewing choice for those less interested in the bigger summer blockbuster titles.