47 Meters Down
By: Alex Elias
Ever since Jaws in 1975, movie-goers have loved to fear sharks on the big screen (in addition to in their dreams.) As if they weren’t already terrifying enough on their own, add in the dark, seemingly bottomless depths of the ocean to masquerade these massive, black-eyed, razor-toothed predators of the deep. Couple this with mankind’s innate curiosity and fixation for the animals and you have the makings of a movie genre that will never die. Unfortunately, like all movies, not every new addition to a genre does it justice. That is why I am proud to say that 47 Meters Down, the new film from filmmaker Johannes Roberts, is a wonderful addition to this beloved, immortal genre.
47 Meters Down stars Mandy Moore (“This is Us”) and Claire Holt (“The Originals”) as Lisa and Kate, loving sisters on vacation in Mexico. After meeting two locals at a bar, they are somewhat reluctantly talked into participating in the life-altering experience of diving with sharks. In a cage, of course! And the adventure will be an unforgettable one. If not for the breathtaking views of the vast brilliant blue ocean, then perhaps after the wench supporting their cage snaps and they plummet 47 meters (154 feet) below the surface and out or radio frequency range, with only the air on their backs and the encircling sharks to keep them company.
There’s a lot of great things to say about 47 Meters Down, but let me first start by citing some context. 47 Meters Down is a different kind of shark movie. It’s atypical of the genre because once the cage drops, the camera remains underwater with the actors for the entire time, never cutting back to the surface. I think this was a monumental decision from Roberts, as continually cutting back to the people trying to rescue them would have killed all semblance of fear and suspense. Because of this, 47 Meters Down is as much a movie about surviving the depths of the ocean with limited air tanks as it is a shark film and this doubles the fear factor. Add in lack of light from the surface at 47 meters down and the beautiful underwater cinematography from Mark Silk and you triple the fear factor. Not to mention this movie had some of the largest sharks I’ve ever seen and some really fantastic close up shots!
You’re all familiar with the concept of nail-biting, hand-holding and other edge-of-your-seat ticks, but allow me to introduce you to the shark bite. Yes, that’s right, my movie-going companion (succumbing to her fear after a sudden, startling appearance of a shark going in for kill) made the snap decision to bite down on my hand like a shark. I would have yelped if not for the fact that I was too engaged in the movie, while also digging my other hand into the seats armrest.
One of the most integral aspects of a movie like this is the soundtrack. Recall the Jaws theme. That let you know beforehand that something was coming. You knew when to start biting your friends hand in anticipation of the worst. Master audiologists understand that silence can be equally as powerful, especially when proceeded by a crescendo in volume and tempo. 47 Meters Down was scored by tomandandy. You might know them for their work on the Resident Evil movies, Sinister 2 and The Hills Have Eyes. Suffice it to say, these guys have been in the business for a long time and they know understand the art of scoring for film. The music in 47 Meters Down was wonderful. It wasn’t corny or in your face. It blended in with the depths of the ocean, creating a serene, ambient soundscape reflective of being underwater. Then, when Lisa and Kate would encounter setbacks …or get company, the music would move quickly, like a shark, to the very forefront. The music functioned like a perfect extension of the feelings evoked from the cinematography. Very fluid, almost like the water itself. There was never a scene that lagged because the music would set a pace and keep it going as long as needed. Masters of the way dissonance, tension, arpeggiation and climax work, the soundtrack from tomandandy will keep you on your toes.
Shark movies, as a genre, suffer from a lot of the same problems as one another. For example: a lack of shark shots, fake-looking sharks, predictability, going the popular route of the dumb summer teen movie where each annoying kid gets picked off one at a time or having the feel of a forgettable, low-budget slasher. But occasionally you’ll find unique gems like Open Water or The Shallows. In all honesty, 47 Meters Down didn’t suffer as a film from any of these typical genre-related problems. In fact, I’m rather hard-pressed to find anything negative to say about the movie at all. They spent a perfectly acceptable amount of time developing the characters and setting up the event that would be the meat of the film. The two protagonists, Lisa and Kate, seemed like completely normal people, albeit supermodel fit and gorgeous. Neither was annoying or prone to making horrible decisions that only someone in a movie can make, like “Hey, what if we tried riding he sharks to the surface?”
Some of you might be thinking, “How do you have an 89-minute movie starring only two people take place entirely under water and not feel like it drags?” Well, for one thing, they have extremely limited air. They don’t have time to even grasp the true horror of their situation. When one sister starts to panic, the other works actively to calm her down. The faster you breath, the more oxygen you use up. There isn’t a single scene in the movie where either sister is inactive and just waiting for sharks to come by. Lisa and Kate are extremely proactive in trying to put their minds together to think of a way out of this seemingly hopeless situation. The entire movie does NOT take place in the cage. What would be the fun in that?
Speaking of Lisa and Kate, actresses Mandy Moore and Claire Holt both had excellent performances. It is no easy feat carrying an entire movie with only one other person, especially one where the camera is constantly focused on you and everything you do. It’s hard enough to shift between convincing emotions on dry land, let alone do it underwater, which according to the dive specialists on set uses an entirely different set of muscles. Mandy Moore, in particular, made Lisa a very realistic and compelling character. The ability of Moore to convey a fear for her life lets us fear for her. Without that, there is no movie. And I was very afraid for her, the entire time.
The last thing I feel I should mention is for those of you who love a good twist, 47 Meters Below has got your back. My companion and I were very pleasantly surprised by a twist ending we certainly didn’t see coming. Unlike the majority of Shark Movies these days where the ending results in either the person getting eaten or the shark exploding, being impaled, maimed, electrocuted or any of a dozen different gruesome deaths, shark conservationists and animal lovers will appreciate that no sharks were harmed either in the making of or in the film itself.
Overall, I had a very positive experience seeing 47 Meters Down. I would give it an 81%. The reason I didn’t score it higher, in spite of this glowing review, is having a fixed premise such as a shark cage. There were cage drops, limited air and the ladies were surrounded by sharks, but that also means that only one of two things can happen: Lisa and Kate survive or they die. By setting yourself into such a limited number of possible outcomes, even with wonderful performances, amazing shark footage and a well-executed twist, it can only be so good. Therefore, you already sort of knew one of two things was going to happen. You just have to watch the movie to find out which one.