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Review: 47 Meters Down (2017)

47 Meters Down (2017)

Directed by: Johannes Roberts

Premise: Sisters (Mandy Moore and Claire Holt) vacationing in Mexico take a shark cage diving tour. The winch collapses and strands the divers on the bottom of the ocean while great white sharks circle nearby.

What Works: Like The Shallows and Open Water, the scenario of 47 Meters Down is plausible enough to be frightening in its concept alone. Movies of this sort are successful when they tap into primal fears. 47 Meters Down does that several times over. The most obvious fear is that of being eaten alive by another animal. The film also successfully exploits the fear of the unknown. That’s inherent to the ocean but when the action moves to the seafloor these women are isolated in the darkness and the suggestion of what might be lurking beyond the light is frequently the most frightening aspect of this film. 47 Meters Down matches phagopobia and scotophobia with the fear of suffocation. Each diver has a single tank of compressed air and even if the sharks don’t get them these women risk dying of asphyxiation. This combination of factors creates a hostile environment for the story and the movie builds effectively. For the bulk of its running time, 47 Meters Down keeps the audience on the edge of their seats and filmmaker Johannes Roberts and his crew do a good job of keep us there. A lot of the scares are set up well but they are all the more impactful because the filmmakers create an ongoing feeling of dread. That’s partially accomplished by keeping the setting at the ocean floor. After the divers are stranded at the bottom of the sea, the action doesn’t cut back to the surface to reveal what the boat crew is doing and that creates a feeling of isolation and abandonment. 47 Meters Down also provides a pair of likable lead characters. The film spends ample time with the sisters on shore and provides us with some backstory; they aren’t deep characters but we do have a sense of their personalities so that each woman is a distinct character. They are also reasonably smart and resourceful and the way that they try to save each other is satisfying. 47 Meters Down is also very well shot. Cinematographer Mark Silk and director Johannes Roberts come up with interesting angles and use light and color effectively. Early scenes of this movie are quite beautiful while later images of horror and shark terror are haunting.

What Doesn’t: There are a number of problems with 47 Meters Down that the film never recovers from. Viewers who know anything about sharks, the ocean, or scuba diving will identify several mistakes. The most obvious is that sharks don’t behave the way that they do in this film. However, that’s true of virtually all shark movies, including Jaws, so that might not be a fair criticism of 47 Meters Down but it is one of several logical problems dogging this movie. The divers wear small wetsuits that leave their arms and legs exposed. Once they are trapped forty-seven meters (or about 154 feet) below the surface of the ocean, it’s very likely that these women would die of hypothermia well before the sharks got to them. Also, their air tanks were intended for surface diving but at that depth their oxygen supply would run out very quickly. The movie’s special effects are inconsistent. The sharks were accomplished through digital effects and in some shots that’s quite obvious. A few of the shark effects are great but others look cartoonish. By far the biggest flaw of 47 Meters Down is the ending. At the last minute the filmmakers resort to an M. Night Shyamalan-style twist that undermines the movie. This is an example of a filmmaker trying to outsmart the audience and insulting them instead. The finale taints the entire film and sours the viewing experience.

Bottom Line: For most of its running time, 47 Meters Down is an effective and frightening shark movie. But it suffers from some obvious logical flaws and the filmmakers foul up their movie in the very end with a stupid twist that undercuts the whole enterprise.

Episode: #653 (June 25, 2017)