Horror master Johannes Roberts returns to shark-infested waters this month with 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, the sequel to his 2017 cult hit. While the story takes place in a new location with fresh faces, the theme of escaping cold-blooded predators is very familiar. The seasoned director talked to Screen Rant about how his own diving experiences informed the story of the movie, as well as what might be in store with his upcoming Resident Evil reboot.
First of all, congratulations on the film. It’s a great film. First question I have for you: is there anything that you learned from the first film that that you either did or didn't want to take into the second film?
Johannes Roberts: I learned a lot about filming underwater. I learned what photographed well in terms of sets, so that was why I wanted to do the underwater city. Going through tunnels and caves and stuff really photographs beautifully. I'd say that I really wanted to make this different from the first, which was just endless blue. I wanted this one to be a maze, just like a complete maze. So that was a big thing that I took from the first movie.
And then I just wanted to play around a little bit on this one with having the sharks be totally different from the first one – like slow, creeping up behind, Michael Myers shots. That was just a different way of doing it, so I just wanted to take everything I've learned from the first one and maybe flip it on its head a bit.
Interesting. Water-based films are some of the trickiest to produce in Hollywood. Can you talk to me about how much time daily you guys spent in the water?
Johannes Roberts: The camera crew and the cast are only allowed four hours. So, the way it works is they get the tanks on, they go down, and we shoot for however long the tank lasts – which depending on what they're doing should be half an hour, then they come up. Everybody recharges and stuff, and then we get new tanks on. And then they basically do that every time they come up, and someone's timing. You know, you burn people out. Sometimes I have to take a camera guy out, because he's been in for four hours now, put in the second cameraman, and then run out of time with the actresses so you put the double in.
It's a tricky one. If you get four hours solid of people underwater a day, it means that we're shooting all day but we're swapping people in and out.
Were there any extra tricks that you use to get your actors into character or into the reality of the situation?
Johannes Roberts: They didn't really need it, to be honest. Because, you know, there's caves. I mean, there were these built caves. If you got into trouble down there, it would be really fucking hard to get out of it. You’re down quite a depth, like, 7-10 meters. And it's pretty scary stuff, you know, getting tangled out there. There's four of you, flashlights going everywhere, you can't really see what's going on. Yeah, it's pretty scary.
They really were having to do some stuff that that would make me very uncomfortable. So, they didn't need an awful lot of prompting there.
Can you talk to me about how the sets may have helped the performances? Because you said some of these sets, like the caves, were built?
Johannes Roberts: Yeah, so we built the whole thing and shot it in two tanks. One in Basildon and one in Pinewood, because it was such a big endeavor, and nobody's ever really done it before.
So, there's very little CGI, really. Little bits of cell extension, but otherwise, it's all completely constructed. When they’re swimming through these caves, they’re swimming through caves, but they're also sets. But it's dangerous. What they're doing is very dangerous.
Interesting. I was talking to some of your actors last week, and they were telling me that originally, they thought it was going to be almost a breeze doing this movie. But then they realized how difficult it was to do this film, mainly because they had their scuba masks on, and their peripheral vision was taken away. Can you talk to me about directing actors when they have those kinds of restrictions?
Johannes Roberts: It’s tough, you know. Those masks are horrible. When you dive, you never use full facemasks. It’s not really a thing. You only have it for the camera, so you can see the whole face.
They're horrible to use, and you have to be very careful because you build up your own carbon dioxide within the mask. If you don't flush oxygen through the mask every so often, you could just pass out underwater. So, the girls were having to, as people that have never been underwater before, really train to be a high technical level. It’s dangerous, those masks are heavy, and it's really hard to hear one another and communicate. It's a real challenge for them.
In my research, I read that you're an experienced cave diver. Can you talk to me how much that may have informed the story of this film?
Johannes Roberts: Yeah. Experienced, I'm not. But I am a cave diver. Basically, I do a lot of diving. I love diving. I’m not the best diver in the world, but I do enjoy it.
When we were doing the first movie, I learned to cave dive with the line producer during the weekend. And it's a really dangerous, crazy sport that is, yes, mad. And while we're doing it, I was like, “This is terrifying down here.” The thought that was in my mind in the descent underwater was that it was awful, and also, ”What a great way to have a sequel to do; exploring underwater places.”
So, that was really where it came from. Taking what I learned with cave diving and during the first movie, and applying it to the script.
There's been an encouraging trend of survival horror films as of late, including 47 Meters Down, The Shallows, and this year's release of Crawl. Why do you think the subgenre is finding success with the contemporary audience?
Johannes Roberts: I don’t know, actually. I think maybe there's been a lot of ghost horror for the last 10 years; maybe people are looking for something slightly different.
Things come in trends. People always talk about how successful shark movies are, but it's not really true. There’s actually not an awful lot of them. They sort of disappeared for a while, and the 47 Meters Down and The Shallows came, and then The Meg. It’s cyclical, I think. Horror just moves in these cycles, and I think it's sort of there for a moment. I don't think it will reach the levels of ghost horror, but it's definitely having a little fun revival.
I was looking on your IMDb and it had something interesting that really piqued my interest, which was Resident Evil. What can you tell me about?
Johannes Roberts: We are in active development of that at the moment. I pitched them a take, and they really loved it. So, we are just gearing up on that as we speak, really. I'm in the office all the time there. So, yeah, it's great. It's gonna be super scary. It's super, super scary. And it's just getting back to the roots of the game. I think, at the moment, I'm not really allowed to say much more than that. But it's gonna be a lot of fun.
Is that going to be a series? Or is that going to be a film?
Johannes Roberts: It’s gonna be a film.
Perfect. There's a lot of kind of throwbacks here to Mean Girls and even John Hughes, teen romcoms in the 80s. Talk to me about the tone that you were hoping to achieve, both above and below water.
Johannes Roberts: Yeah, I love those teen movies. When it came to working out a way back into the sequel, it just wasn't easy. I's really hard to try and find a way in that I would respond to. Then the idea of making it a little bit like Mean Girls but underwater came. I was like, “Wow, this is great.” And then the way it all sort of comes together at the end, I just really enjoyed and really responded to. I loved that; I'm endlessly fascinated by American high school and that kind of world.
The film did its job; it scared the crap out of me. I now look at the oceans in a completely different way, as if the first one wasn't enough. So great job.
Johannes Roberts: Thank you, I really appreciate that.
Even up until the very end, I was on the edge of my seat. You have a bunch of fresh new faces in this film. Can you talk to me about why that decision was made, but also what they brought to the characters that may not have been on the page?
Johannes Roberts: We didn't necessarily know if the movie was going to be anchored off the brand, so we really auditioned around to find four people that I just wanted a great energy from, that would lift this movie. Sophie and I had chatted before, actually, on various things and wanted to work together. I wanted to work with her, so she was kind of [the first one] on and she was a very serious actress. Serious in the way that she’s really done genre mostly, and I really respected her craft. Then Sistine just came in with this bundle of energy, and Brianne just gave this amazing read. And then Corinne came in quite late actually, just sort of almost by chance. It just turned out that the head of Entertainment Studios, Byron, knew Jamie, and we got to meet Corinne. It was just all perfect and all just came together.
But it was really about finding four girls to sort of bond, that were totally ego-less, totally fresh and new to this. I think it's the only way it could really work. And they really did connect and become those four characters.
Well, amazing job. I can't wait for everyone to see this film. Thank you so much for your time today.
- 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019) release date: Aug 16, 2019