47 Meters Down
In 1975 Steven Spielberg still started his career as a filmmaker. He had dabbled in a broad variety of genres, and in this fateful year, he set his sights of a classic horror/thriller story. It was a movie about a man struggling against the unstoppable force of nature, ‘Jaws.' Sharks were always an incredibly effective source of terror. A man with a knife, gun or bomb is frightening but something primal about sharks that directly target the most primitive portion of our brains, the region responsible=e for the most fundamental decision we are capable of, flight or fight. This visceral reaction is hard-wired into our very DNA which is why they still make for the perfect adversary, a creature driven only by the need to feed versus man, proud of his intelligence which is impotent against such a force of nature. It has been over forty years since sheriff Brody realized they needed a bigger bout, but sharks remain the go-to adversary in a creature feature. This has become such a powerful and useful trope that the SyFy Channel regularly releases a shark based made for cable movie. Superficially, the movie ’47 Meters Down’ appears to be the latest offering in this constantly expanding genre. To its credit, the way the sharks are relegated to a nearly McGuffin status, critical to the characters within the context of the story but less important to the audience. The focus of the movie is the emotional stress and psychological torment of the designated ‘final girls.' Unfortunately, the underlying construction of the movie falls short of fully achieving its full potential. The result can still be regarded as a reasonable entertainment, but there were aspects of the narrative that could have benefited from greater depth and development. The concessions made to retain the feel of a creature feature overshadow what would have indubitably an intensely captivating experience as a purely psychological thriller
Sisters. Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt), have always been close so it was only natural that they would go on vacation together. This holiday to Mexico was supposed to be an opportunity to have some drinks, some fun in the sun, perhaps trying something new and adventurous. This need for something new prompted by the recent breakup between Lisa and her boyfriend, Stuart. His reason for leaving her was "she made the relationship boring’. During a night of drinking and dancing the sisters met a couple of local men, Javier (Chris Johnson) and Louis (Yani Gellman) Upon hearing the girls want something different they suggest they try a local specialty, shark watching in a submerged cage. Initially, Lisa is reticent to go along, but her sister talks her into the adventure. The quartet arrived at the boat owned and operated by Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine). Lisa and Kate are concerned about the dilapidated condition of the vessel and its equipment, but the guys assure them it was safe. The captain informs them that a requirement for going down in the cage was a diving certification. Kate had received the necessary training and had the certificate, but Lisa is a complete novice. Not wanting such detail to ruin their escapade Kate quickly informs the Captain that they both duly trained and certified. Their hesitation is challenged when the see the diving rig. The cage is old, rusted, tethered to the crane by some less than sturdy chains.
After the captain chums, the waters to attract the predator’s excitement grows along with the understandable trepidation of the sisters. The local men take the first turn uneventfully diving to the predetermined depth and returning safely. Unnoticed by all is the fact that the cable has begun to fray under the unaccustomed stress. The time arrives for Lisa and Kate to get in the cage. Despite the unkempt status of the ship and cage the diving suits are modern and in good condition. Part of this is the type of face mask used. Unlike the usual setup with a mouthpiece, these are full face masks with microphones and speakers allowing for verbal communication. Crucial to the successful presentation of a horror movie it is important to be able to see the faces of the actors, it might seem like an insignificant plot contrivance this choice made by props and costuming gave the actresses the ability to display emotion augmenting the dialogue and circumstances. Another aspect of the film that correctly done was to keep the running time to a brisk 89 minutes, this forced the pacing to be to the point, and the story efficiently told, it also gives the appearance to unfold in close to real time.
In movies showing a cable critical to survival inevitably completely unravels. It is a piece of foreshadowing that cannot be easily ameliorated. With that said the pair of potential final girls the cable snaps careening the cage and its hapless occupants to the floor the eponymous 47 meters down. At this depth, they are beyond the range of their radios unable to contact the boat. The only hope of rescue is for one on them to leave the relative safety of the cage and swim up to a point where the radios will function. Kate exits the cage which requires the contrived step of removing her bulky face mask to squeeze through the bars. Kate manages to contact the captain who explains Javier it diving to them with extra air tanks. This is great news for the young women who are quickly running out of the air. Previously a scene detailing the consumption and limitation on air was covered in detail. It was also made clear that physical exertion or emotional stress greatly decreases the time they have. The sisters are afraid that Javier will not be able to do them so when the spot a flashlight just below Kate again exits the cage, this time through the door in the roof.
Most of the tension generated in the story originates with the depth of water and the swarm of hungry sharks. The threat of the sharks is obvious, but the depth threatens to afflict them with decompression sickness, better known as the bends. Among the symptoms are a hallucination, treated here as a plot contrivance that pulls even the most involved viewer right out of the moment. After all the trials and tribulation suffered by Lisa and Kate, the audience is given a red herring at the very end. The story dutifully checks off every hackneyed horror flick expectation from Kate having her leg pinned under the cage to frequent shots of the air gauge with the numbers on display steadily declining. There is also the necessary tense moment when during their ascent they are required to stop at the twenty-foot mark to allow the nitrogen to leave their blood. Even the familiar jump shot is included when Lisa ignites a flare finding herself face to face with the toothy jaws of a shark.
Throughout the film to shake the feeling of being forced. It is one thing to watch a horror movie convinced that every plot twist is predictable. Ardent fans of the genre certainly have watch sufficient flick to be overly exposed to the plethora of variation to every life-threatening situation. The ending may be slightly surprising, but ultimately it comes across as a cheat, depriving the audience any sense of closure or resolution just before the end credits roll. The director/co-screenwriter, Johannes Roberts, has a track record for missing the potential of a thrilling story. A few years ago, this was the fate of his previous film, ‘The Other Side of the Door.' The shortcoming that plagues this artist is he is still on the learning curve. His planning is potentially taut and effective, but the execution lacks the requisite panache to keep the audience fully engaged. It does bear mentioning that the actresses do an admirable job in the portrayal of their characters. Claire Holt built her career in the water. As a teenager she co-starred in the popular Australian young people television series, ‘H2O: Just Add Water’, as Emma, a mermaid. More recently she was part of the hyper-attractive cadre of young performers in the CW in ‘Pretty Little Liars.' To her credit, Ms. Holt has been expanding her professional comfort zone with a featured role in the mature series, ‘Aquarius.' Her co-star, Mandy Moore, has been entertaining for most of her life. Starting off as a pop music recording star she began her transition to film with family comedies working up to substantially involved roles. This is one of a myriad of shark flicks but is barely able to achieve the status of a SyFy Channel made for cable movie.