47 METERS DOWN
Director: Johannes Roberts
Cast: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine, Yani Gellman, Santiago Segura, Chris Johnson
MPAA Rating: (for sequences of intense peril, bloody images, and brief strong language)
Running Time: 1:29
Release Date: 6/16/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | June 15, 2017
When multiple people tell you to conserve the air in your scuba tank, it's probably a good idea not to waste precious oxygen describing everything you're seeing and doing, especially when there's nobody around to hear you. It's a storytelling convention, of course, but it's one that flies in the face of the supposed severity of the scenario of 47 Meters Down. A stronger filmmaker wouldn't have to rely upon it anyway, because such a filmmaker would be confident enough to show us what the protagonist is seeing and doing without a running commentary.
That commentary would only be slightly annoying if the screenplay by director Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera possessed even a shred of internal consistency and logic. It doesn't, and as evidence, I present the fact that the oxygen in the tanks turns out to be a fake-out in terms of suspense. Without giving away too much of the game, another character has a solution to the dwindling air supply, but he keeps the main characters—and, hence, the audience—from knowing about it until the last possible moment.
That the central characters don't think to ask about it says one thing about them. That the character with the answer doesn't mention it until the main characters are about to die says something about him. That Roberts and Riera don't even hint at the possibility of a solution to one of their plot's major complications says yet another thing about them. None of these things, by the way, is good.
Two sisters, Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt), are on vacation in Mexico. Lisa has recently gone through an unexpected break-up. She suspects that her ex-boyfriend ended their relationship because she's boring. Kate's solution arrives in the form of a couple of local guys (played by Yani Gellman and Santiago Segura). They help to run a shark-seeing enterprise on board a battered, old boat. Surely, if Lisa can get some pictures of herself inches away from a great white shark, it'll prove that she isn't as boring as he believes.
The trip doesn't start too well, since the cage is a rusty, old thing that looks like it'll fall apart upon hitting the water (It turns out to be incredibly sturdy—so much for that setup). The boat's crew is dumping chum in the water to attract the sharks, which is illegal. The winch creaks when the local guys take their turn, and everyone seems to be pressuring the obviously uncertain Lisa into going into the water, against her better judgment. The boat's captain (played by Matthew Modine) seems like a nice enough guy, at least.
While the sisters are in the cage, the winch fails, sending the cage and the sisters to the seafloor (which is, naturally, 47 meters below the surface). The oxygen in the tanks is limited. The winch has landed on top of the cage, blocking the exit hatch, and even if they could get out, swimming straight to the surface would result in a painful death from the bends. The women are too deep to make radio contact with the boat, and yes, there are still sharks swimming around somewhere in the darkness of the water.
The situation begins with some tension. How could it not? There are logical complications and obstacles established here, the surrounding darkness invites plenty of speculation about when a shark will turn up, and the score, by the music duo known as tomandandy, is evocative, understated, and disquieting.
As can often be the case in these minimalistic thrillers, the problems arise in the movie's inconsistency with its established rules (The sharks, in particular, behave like plot tools, not animals—showing up whenever there's a bit of a lull) and the invention of more complications than are really necessary. Some of these are relatively mundane, but in the context of a story that has a restricted setting and premise, they come across as over-the-top. There's an excursion out into the sea to chase a flashlight, which makes little sense even in the context of the story. There's a fake resolution to the characters' ordeal that basically starts the entire story over again. There's the conveniently inconvenient placement of a speargun that results in something of a forced error on the part of one of the characters.
All of these things, which seem harmful on their own, add up to undermine any sense of veracity or suspense. For a while, 47 Meters Down plays as a mediocre thriller, but Johannes and Riera push the envelope too far in the end, giving us a climax that ultimately displays they have little interest in any logic. They're just toying with us and flaunting it.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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