47 Meters Down is a decent, yet unremarkable, survival thriller that’s little more than disposable summer entertainment.
Sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are vacationing together in Mexico as Lisa deals with a recent break-up. Looking to forget life’s troubles, the two girls go out partying one night and meet Louis (Yani Gellman) and Benjamin (Santiago Segura). Hoping to show their new friends a good time, the guys tell Lisa and Kate about a favorite hobby of theirs: cage diving for sharks. Lisa is unsure about the whole endeavor, believing it’s too dangerous an activity. However, Kate encourages Lisa to change her mind, and the four make plans to go thrill-seeking.
The next day, Lisa, Kate, Louis, and Benjamin set out alongside Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine) and his assistant Javier (Chris Johnson). When the sisters go into the water, the cage is lowered to the safe distance of five meters. Unfortunately, the winch on the boat breaks, and instead, Lisa and Kate sink all the way to the bottom and are trapped 47 meters down. With the threat of a shark attack lingering and oxygen in limited supply, they must do whatever they can to survive and make it back to the surface.
47 Meters Down is the latest thriller from director Johannes Roberts, who is also known for The Other Side of the Door and Storage 24. It is similar in premise to last year’s The Shallows, which also dealt with a human going up against a killer shark. Like that Blake Lively vehicle, the hope going into 47 Meters Down was that it could be a B-movie throwback for genre enthusiasts to offer a reprieve from the more traditional summer tentpoles. While it mostly gets the job done, it still leaves a lot to be desired. 47 Meters Down is a decent, yet unremarkable, survival thriller that’s little more than disposable summer entertainment.
The film’s biggest issues are with the script, credited to Roberts and Ernest Rivera. Many of the roles are thinly defined, with only the barest amount of characterization to get by. As the leads, Lisa and Kate work more as conduits for the viewers to experience the events vicariously through as opposed to fleshed out characters in their own right. It’ll be difficult for some moviegoers to get invested in their plight, since their relationship and dynamic is mostly generic instead of being heartfelt. Moore and Holt are solid in their respective parts, there just isn’t much for them to do other than panic and scream. The main story lacks a compelling emotional through-line, making the thrills largely superficial and, at times, anticlimactic. 47 Meters Down is designed to be a simple narrative at its core, but the filmmakers took that to heart a little too much.
Likewise, the supporting roles are virtually nonexistent, serving mostly to recite exposition and propel the plot forward. Modine, Gellman, and Segura are hardly on-screen enough to make any kind of meaningful impression, despite their best efforts. Moore and Holt at least are able to carry a majority of the film on their shoulders, doing what they can to build something between their characters. Their co-stars aren’t as lucky, and there’s basically nothing on the page for the other actors to elevate over the course of the movie’s running time. Again, this is in line with the project’s B-movie sensibilities, but it would have been nice if a little more work was put into making a cast that’s at least fun to watch and has screen presence to help 47 Meters Down rise above its limitations and become something a little more. As it stands, the film makes for an intriguing “what if?” set-up, but comes up short in its execution to really work as a movie.
Where Roberts does succeed is on the technical side of things, crafting scary set pieces involving the shark and its prey. The director employs an abundance of close-ups, giving the proceedings an air of claustrophobia and dread. Sometimes, he overdoes it in this regard, as occasionally the action can be difficult to follow, but it’s a nice style that can make the audience feel uneasy. The low-light settings created by director of photography Mark Silk are also effective, giving the film a sense of unpredictability. There’s usually no warning for when the shark arrives, highlighting the hopelessness and peril of Lisa and Kate’s situation. And at a svelte 90 minutes, Roberts knows better than to have 47 Meters Down overstay its welcome and it moves along at a solid pace, never really dragging down. He also deserves credit for never abandoning the other threats (like the oxygen tanks) to keep things tense throughout.
What ends up holding the film back from reaching its full potential is poor storytelling. The characters’ motivations feel arbitrary instead of natural in order for the movie to just happen, giving viewers little reason to truly care about what happens on-screen. The first act in particular is sloppy in its execution, rushing things along to get to the shark without much thought being put into anything else. As a result, there’s little build-up as the movie meanders towards its conclusion, which some may find unsatisfying with the twists Roberts takes.
In the end, 47 Meters Down knows how to serve up cheap thrills, but there’s little behind them to make the movie memorable in any way. It’ll make an okay palate cleanser for film buffs in search of a break from the bigger budgeted summer fare, but unless one is a fan of these kinds of movies, there’s little to recommend. It isn’t something that demands to be seen in theaters, especially with all else that’s playing right now.
47 Meters Down is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 89 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense peril, bloody images, and brief strong language.