I once backed out of scuba diving at the last-minute. So very last minute that the instructors didn’t even get the chance to stop me, because by the time they noticed what was happening I had already sprinted up the boardwalk and stripped down in front of strangers, leaving my scuba suit in a pile behind me. Not my finest moment by far; but after 47 Metres Down, I’ve never felt better about a choice.
“Trust me, once you go down there you won’t want to come back up again.”
Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are two very different sisters on vacation in sunny Mexico. After a night of heavy drinking and making out with some boy beach babes, they’re told of a cage diving boat that will take them into 25-foot long shark infested waters for no more than $100. Kate, the more impulsive of the two, can’t say no to a bargain and is up for it right away. She eventually manages to convince a rightfully apprehensive Lisa to join after lots of sister-begging (that’s a thing) and by planting the seed that it might impress Lisa’a ex-boyfriend whom she’s still torn up over. In the morning they take to the cyan waters and after many moments of almost turning back, the moments we all are screaming at the screen, she steps into the cage with her sister, determined to prove blondes aren’t more fun.
The set up doesn’t take long, and good thing too, because the film is at its worst when it has to do anything other than build mood and create terrifying atmosphere. It does give us just a taste of happiness, though. That rare adrenaline rush that comes from realising you’ve done something you never thought you could do. And wow, aren’t those massive killing machines beautiful? Then it happens, something that seems to be pulled right out of a nightmare. A technical error lasting mere seconds sends them plummeting down until they hit the sea floor. Lisa wakes up to blood misting the water, a dimly lit cage, and Kate trying to calm the situation down to work out a plan. Those same elements are what comprise most of the film.
47 Metres Down was originally intended to go straight to DVD, and you can probably tell. The acting at times isn’t great, the dialogue is repetitive and it’s noticeably small budget. I don’t think that last thing holds it back too much though. We spend 80% of the runtime underwater which, first of all, is really impressive from a shooting and acting standpoint. Both Holt and Moore learned to scuba dive for the film and the results are great. Like I said: no award-winning performances here, but I didn’t have a problem with them either. The script lets them down, but the entire premise rests on them. If they hadn’t pulled it off the film would be a catastrophe. They effectively portray the fear and utter desperation any sane person would feel in their place. Director Johannes Roberts also takes time to build their relationship. I’m not a shark movie fan in general but the thing that kept me watching this is I did actually care about the characters. I thought their dynamic was a realistic one (in a movie with a lot of unrealistic stuff), and I believed they loved each other. You can sympathise with anyone in a horrible predicament, but to keep the engagement up there has to be a willingness to give incentive to care.
For a shark movie, this doesn’t actually have that much shark stuff. It’s more about the presence of them looming and the constant threat of the oxygen tanks running out. This is quite clever in this context for two reasons. One: it keeps the VFX budget down, so when we do see sharks they look good. Two: a lot of these films struggle to be believable in any way, so with the double threat and need to do things like collect different tanks that are laying a few feet away it gives the characters excuses to do usually dumb things like leave the cage. Is the film devoid of “really?” moments? Hell no. But still, in my mind, suffocating at the bottom of the sea alone in the dark is one of the few things scary enough to contend with monsters of the deep with 300 teeth.
The ending is going to be hit or miss for a lot of people and understandably so. I’ve seen a lot of people say they saw the twist coming, but I wasn’t so sure. When Kate is snatched away by a great white in a moment of shock and pain for Lisa I was sure she was dead. We are also informed in a very unsubtle manner of oxygen narcosis, so when Lisa hears Kate’s voice over the radio my mind instantly went to hallucination. But then the film keeps going, the danger keeps rising, the terror keeps building, and I told myself it had carried on for too long to be a hallucination. I thought them surviving those bites was ridiculous, but I came in expecting a ridiculous movie and I wanted these girls to survive so I was okay with it! I forgot about the possibility of it not being real. Then those visual cues came trickling in with light leaks and distortions. To tell the truth I have no idea whether I’m bummed about the fact I sat through all that for such a cynical ending or whether I love the wickedness of it. That happy ending was dangled in front of me, and I took the bait just like those sharks did.
47 Metres Down was quite the ride. It’s a B-movie with its share of B-movie problems, but it exists to be thrilling and scary. For me it did that job, and it did it well. I’d even watch it again; I never watch these types of things again. One last thing before I leave you to lose any faith in my opinion, the boat being called ‘Sea Esta’ is literally the smartest thing about this, and I feel privileged to be in on the joke.
Hello, I am a Scottish filmmaker who enjoys writing about movies and reading comics! You can follow me on Twitter @_trudiegraham or on Instagram @tru.die