In 1975, Steven Spielberg reminded viewers to fear the ocean with his blockbuster hit Jaws. Just last year, that lasting fear was given further validation with Jaume Collet-Serra’s impressively handled The Shallows. In 2017, we have Johannes Roberts’ 47 Meters Down, to remind us why the shark sub-genre rarely reaches the mainstream.
Lisa and Kate are sisters vacationing in Mexico appearing to have the time of their lives. When Lisa drops the bombshell that her partner has left her because he has become bored of their relationship Kate proposes to make her appear more exciting to win him back, and what better way she exclaims than diving with sharks. The discouraged sister is faced with a mighty foe – peer pressure. Unfortunately, deciding to go cage-diving with nature’s most unnerving predator, a catastrophic turn of events causes the cage to be cut loose, leaving the sisters to fight for survival on the ocean surface.
Roberts has very little to work with. The pair cannot try and swim upwards for fear of suffering ‘The bends’ – no, not Radiohead’s second studio album, although you may consider listening to that a better use of your time. They are merely told to wait, and sadly the film rarely manages to be slightly more exciting than watching people sit in a cage anticipating rescue. Of course more than this happens, but in such a location and under the conditions there is limited resources to make this a stimulating viewing experience. Admittedly, there are some suspenseful sequences, but for a film of this type to maintain any engagement, they are just too scarce.
Thanks to the threat of circling sharks, some scares are provided. But, it is rather hard to ignore the fact that these scares are only successful due to the sheer loudness of it all. In any opportunity to get the audience’s blood pumping, Roberts ratchets up the volume; when you realise what he is doing any terror you may have felt soon diminishes.
Besides the occasional sporadic release of tension it’s a rather boring affair. Films like The Shallows had little to work with, and this feels even more minimal. The characters are void of personality or flare. They are simply hard to care about – despite the director’s sly and cheap attempt to arouse themes of sibling rivalry these are unmistakably flat characters from their inception, and the only way audiences will fully invest hereafter is to pace the film furiously. The use of music can sometimes be effective to enhance peril, but, yet again, it’s not enough. As for the use of music in the film’s exposition, it is terribly uninspired, and conjures tedious spring-break vibes that kick off the director’s carnival of cliches, including the genre-fan favourite, “Come on, it’ll be fun”.
The ocean is at times impressively shot to make it appear dangerously immense, but 47 Meters Down is predictable, nonsensical, and bears a skeletal narrative. Although some diligent efforts certainly have not gone undetected, frankly, there is just not enough to save this film from sinking.