Listen, if you’re stuck in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean and your oxygen is slowly running out and large, menacing sharks are lurking in the area looking for a snack but you’re also able to have a schmaltzy heart to heart (we’re talking about a full on conversation here) with your sister, then your predicament isn’t nearly as dire as it should be.
Yet, that’s the scenario Lisa (Mandy Moore) and her sister Kate (Claire Holt) find themselves in in Johannes Roberts “47 Meters Down.” The submarine heart to heart is a glaringly awful mid movie moment—an unnecessary attempt to strengthen the sisters’ bond that brings the action to an abrupt halt, spoiling any sense of tension that had been building up before hand. “47 Meters” down is a silly, occasionally exciting survival thriller that gets bogged down by its “human” drama.
The first ten minutes of the picture, pre shark tank, are painful. Lisa and Kate are vacationing in Mexico because Lisa’s boyfriend Stewart (unseen) has recently left her, saying she’s too “boring” for him. Lisa hopes to prove him wrong on this trip. What a lousy, slightly reductive set up; of all the ways you could get a pair of vacationers stranded in a shark cage, “47 Meters Down” picks the one that involves trying to impress a jerk ex boyfriend. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the “getting-over-an-ex” stuff was introduced and quickly dropped but everything Claire and Lisa do in the beginning is prefaced with “this will make Stewart jealous!” including going out on a dilapidated boat and climbing inside a rusty shark cage. That’ll show him!
Roberts and co screenwriter Ernest Riera stress this trite exposition more than they need to, culminating in that momentum stopping underwater one on one, where the sisters talk about Stewart some more and Lisa admits that she’s always been jealous of Claire’s more adventurous, impulsive life and blah blah blah. They’re already trying to survive being forty-seven meters under water, you don’t need them to stop and have a cheesy conversation to make you sympathize with them more. These silly human problems are supposed to be minor in comparison to the intense life or death situation there in.
As a pure survival thriller, “47 Meters Down” yields a handful of tensely staged, claustrophobic underwater scenes. And to his credit, Roberts uses the sharks sparingly and effectively—relying more on suspense and impending doom rather than gore. However, even the tensest underwater scenes are undercut by too much talking. There’s far too much screaming and characters restating the obvious; it’s the same problem “Gravity” faced but ten times worse. The script is full of terribly cheesy lines of dialogue, delivered in a laughably stilted manner. “I’m so scared!” Lisa yells at one point. Oh, really?
At another point, after venturing outside the cage, Lisa makes her way to the edge of an underwater cliff, with nothing but spine tingling darkness below her. Okay, that’s pretty scary. You know how to make it not very scary? Have Lisa exclaim: “I can’t see what’s below me!” a few seconds later. All this chatting spoils the mood; it would have been better to let the quiet, ominous hum of the ocean dominate the soundtrack, along with muffled screams and the sounds of shark jaws chomping.
47 Meters” eventually breaks down beyond repair when it relies on an act of cinematic deception late in the third act (think “Last Temptation of Christ”) that, as a climax, feels cheap and unearned—an effort to make the film appear more intelligent than it really is. Even worse, the deception is followed by an underwhelming and pretentiously dragged out resolution sequence.
The film ends with a whimper and we don’t even find out if Stewart was jealous of Lisa and Kate’s vacation. What kind of resolution is that!?