The ocean covers approximately 70 percent of the planet, but we don’t seem to visit terribly often. We spend most of our time safely on land, doing our land business, and not getting eaten by soulless monsters with giant thresher teeth.
And I, for one, think we’ve got the right idea. But some of us jump into the inky void of infinite madness and demonic death anyway, and in 47 Meters Down, they pay a huge price for it.
47 Meters Down stars Mandy Moore and Claire Holt as Lisa and Kate, a pair of sisters on vacation in Mexico, who decide to set foot on a rickety boat, and then in a rickety cage, and then in chum-filled water filled with great white sharks. Sure enough, the cage falls deep into the ocean – 47 meters down, to be precise – and Lisa and Kate are trapped. If they stay in the cage they will drown, soon. If they leave the cage they’ll be eaten by sharks. And they can’t swim upwards quickly enough to avoid those sharks, because if they do they’ll get air bubbles in their brains.
In other words, they are fucking screwed, and that is a great position in which to put the heroes of your horror movie. Johannes Roberts co-write and directed 47 Meters Down and he appears to take deep satisfaction in ruining his protagonists’ lives. Every mistake comes back to haunt them, every victory is short-lived. It’s an incredibly suspenseful motion picture.
47 Meters Down plays a lot like an amusement park ride, the kind where you’re invited to take a fun little journey, but while you’re waiting in line you watch a bunch of videos in which trustworthy faces tell you nothing could possibly go wrong. You know otherwise, of course, and you stay in line anyway, because that’s the fun of it.
The flaw in 47 Meters Down is that Lisa and Kate aren’t enjoying the safety of Disneyland, Universal Studios or even a darkened theater. So the audience sees all the warning signs that this underwater adventure will go horribly wrong, and we can squirm with anticipation. But our protagonists see all the same warning signs and push forward anyway, even though the context should dictate that they do otherwise. The screenplay offers only perfunctory reasons for this folly: Lisa is trying to prove to her ex-boyfriend that she’s “spontaneous and fun,” and Kate is already spontaneous and fun. The structure of 47 Meters Down is quite solid, but the people who live there aren’t particularly engaging.
Still, because they’re played by likable actors, we like Lisa and Kate. And by the time they’re trapped in a claustrophobic cage, in the middle of an infinite abyss, it doesn’t entirely matter whether or not they have nuances. What matters is that Johannes Roberts films the ocean like it was the ultimate hell dimension, and each set piece jangles your nerves and tingles your spine.
There are scenes in 47 Meters Down which are genuinely impressive and absolutely shocking, especially in a movie theater, where the void can completely overwhelm you. 47 Meters Down won’t have that same impact at home, with the lights on, and a screen that isn’t the size of a whale. So go out, enjoy the ride, and then stay the fuck out of the water because there are fucking sharks in there.
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William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.