47 Meters Down: A Shark Thriller With Too Little Bite

It’s summertime, the weather is hot, and the beaches are busy. So of course what better time for a ‘killer shark’ movie. Despite Shark Week’s best efforts to re-cast them, sharks have remained popular horror movie ‘monsters since Spielberg’s Jaws. Though Hollywood has given us more than its share of duds, when done right, killer shark movies exploit some of our most basic fears. Supremely silly Deep Blue Sea was still a fun B-movie, while The Shallows was surprisingly suspenseful. Following the success of The Shallows, 47 Meters Down surprised analysts and became a modest box office success. Audiences turned out to theaters, but is 47 Meters Down another The Shallows? Or is it just forgettable summer confectionery like The Meg?

Synopsis

Sisters Lisa and Kate are enjoy a Mexican resort vacation after Lisa’s boyfriend leaves her. Though Kate is a bit of a free-spirit, sister Lisa’s ex felt that she was too boring’. Wanting to change her ‘safe’ image, Lisa agrees to go diving in a shark cage with Kate’s encouragement. But soon after descending into the shark-infested water, the diving cage’s cable snaps, sending it 47 meters down to the ocean floor. Out of communication range from the ship, and running out of oxygen, the sisters are trapped and surrounded by sharks.

47 Meters Down Misses Some of the Potential of Its Premise

Like the surprise 2016 box office success, The Shallows, 47 Meters Down boils its suspense down to a simple premise. In fact, screenplay writers Johannes Roberts and Emest Riera follow a similar blueprint. They strand their characters in shark-infested waters while creating an urgent timeline – running out of oxygen. Sometimes the simplest ideas make for the best suspense. In theory, 47 Meters Down kicks its action off with a nail-biting hook. The feeling of suffocation or choking is terrifying. Many people have a phobia of drowning. And sharks are just inherently terrifying, no matter what Shark Week tells us. As such, a story that confronts its characters with drowning or being eaten alive should make for a harrowing experience.

Roberts, who also directed The Strangers: Prey at Night, finds several inventive ways to put his characters in danger.

Yet 47 Meters Down never feels as riveting as it should. This isn’t to say that Roberts, who also directs, doesn’t craft several suspenseful moments. Roberts, who also directed The Strangers: Prey at Night, finds several inventive ways to put his characters in danger. A scene where Lisa tries to track down a sinking flashlight outside the cage is an excruciating tease when you know there are sharks nearby. Similarly, it’s harrowing as the characters count down the meters left to until they reach the surface during a failed rescue attempt. But these moments feel too few and far between. That is, 47 Meters Down seems to have a lot of downtime, which brings us to the other major problem.

47 Meters Down Is Little Toothless in the Shark Action

Despite having only one shark, The Shallows delivered plenty of shark action for audiences. In addition, The Shallows ratcheted up its toothy suspense, leading to a rousing climax. Comparatively, 47 Meters Down really under-utilizes its killer sharks. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the sharks don’t appear enough in the movie. Instead, Roberts doesn’t include that one scene that really establishes the dangers of his sharks. Spielberg made his shark terrifying in Jaws’ opening scene without even showing it. The Shallows has that amazing shot of the shark’s shadow in the surf’s wave. Even the silly Deep Blue Sea established that their ‘smart’ sharks were a threat with some clever scenes.

There’s a bit of a generic feeling to 47 Meters Down along with some stretches that may challenge some viewers’ attention spans.

Given the movie’s great set-up, one can’t help but feel let down. Simply put, 47 Meters Down just doesn’t do much with its sharks. On the one hand, the movie boasts some beautiful underwater photography. Yet Roberts doesn’t do anything inventive with the premise. There’s a bit of a generic feeling to 47 Meters Down along with some stretches that may challenge some viewers’ attention spans.

Mandy Moore and Claire Holt Keep Shark Thriller Fresh

While 47 Meters Down’s shark action may be sparse, the movie’s lead performance carry the quieter moments. This Is Us star, Mandy Moore, has come a long way from A Walk to Remember. Moore invests ‘Lisa’ with a full range of emotions – self-doubt, fear, love – that make her character real and relatable. It’s Moore’s performance that convinces that audiences that her character would indeed get into the shark cage in the first place. As sister ‘Kate’, Claire Holt is equally strong, even in a role that’s probably a little easier to sell. Both actresses feel like real sisters and its their emotional bond that holds 47 Meters Down together. In spite of missed opportunities with its premise, Moore and Holt’s expressions of desperation make the threat feel persistent. Aside from Moore and Holt, 47 Meters Down wastes veteran Matthew Modine. In essence, this is a two-person show.

47 Meters Down An Average Shark Thriller Lacking Some Bite

Ultimately, 47 Meters Down found a summer box office audience, but it’s unlikely to inspire repeat viewings. Given its premise, this shark thriller lacked a distinct bite, feeling stretched out by the movie’s end. But the movie made a profit, which means an inevitable sequel. That sequel, 47 Meters Down 2: Uncaged, comes out later this summer. Hopefully, Roberts builds in a few more scares into the sequel.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B-

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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