Shark movies. It’s kind of hard to mess them up. You take your camera-happy (or shy, if you’re Steven Spielberg) sharks, throw them in some sun infested waters (or not, if you’re the 47 Meters Down franchise), and pull out an iron-clad audience pleaser.
“47 Meters Down: Uncaged channels Jason Voorhees in the Camp Crystal Lake of the sea.”
47 Meters Down: Uncaged had summer audience pleaser written all over it. Jumping off the fins of its surprisingly successful predecessor, 47 Meters Down; starring Mandy Moore and a faulty cage, the film banked young trendable stars to get the youths off Instagram and into the cinema; Sistine Rose Stallone (daughter of Sylvester Stallone), and Corinne Foxx (daughter of Jamie Foxx), and it has sharks. Lots of sharks.
And though sunny beaches and popped pool floaties are the typical setting of these summer shark fests, director Johannes Roberts has taken his 47 Meters Down franchise straight into the murky depths. Curveballing to a unique, dark and claustrophobic setting is how the Xenomorph in Alien (1979) became elevated to one of the most unique ‘haunted house’ stories we’ve ever seen, The Imitation in The Thing (1982) became one of the most enrapturing murder mysteries, and now, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged channels Jason Voorhees in the Camp Crystal Lake of the sea. Here, the sharks are slasher villains, hellbent on capturing the transgressing teens who’ve come to their lake (sea).
In 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, step-sisters Mia (Sophie Nélisse) and Sasha (Corinne Foxx) are set up on a play date in a glass-bottom shark boat by their parents (John Corbett of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Nia Long of Keanu). Instead, Sasha’s friends Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Stallone) hijack the day, taking the girls to a raft in an isolated lagoon above the entrance to a cave tunnel, leading to an underground city. The very cave the girls’ father has been excavating.
After the girls montage-swim to their hearts’ content, they decide to tour the first tunnel. Donning 4-conveniently placed and explained-away scuba suits, the girls set off to check out the ruined city. It isn’t all hallways and well-carved paths, though. We find the girls underwater spelunking, cramming themselves and their oxygen tanks through tight and tiny crevices and openings. When they finally reach the first room, a darkly lit and spooky alter room filled with worn human-like statues lining the space, the girls only have 40% of their oxygen left.
And it’s in that space they meet their first sharky visitor, who also happens to destroy their way in.. and out. The girls must go deeper into the tunnels an effort to find an escape. All while being hunted. In the dark. Low on oxygen.
While the sharks are doing their darndest to lurk, pounce, and prey – the screenplay, penned by Roberts and Ernest Riera, stifles 47 Meters Down: Uncaged to barely-passable sequel territory. Coming off like the table read of a first draft, the characters chew on stiff setup and dialogue for their underdeveloped characters that was written by someone who must not talk to teenage girls, all broadcast crystal clear on underwater scuba-diving microphones. The audio overlay leaves zero opportunity for bubbles or any underwater ambiance to get in the way of audiences being served an animated version of a screenplay that surely has “rushed to production” stamped on the title page.
But hey, did we come for believability, dialogue, and endearing characters? Nope. We came for sharks. If you’re patient, sharks you will get. But 47 Meters Down: Uncaged has to work up to it. While the girls are busy depleting their oxygen and getting secondary characters eaten by proxy, audiences will need to satiate their sharky hunger on one, lonely and blind foe. Though he packs a punch whenever he pops out of the silty darkness, the screenplay creates too many save points and safe spaces for the girls to pop off their masks and catch a breather.
I do have to give the film credit for tackling an almost entirely underwater setting. But even with allowances, I had a hard time sinking into this picture. These girls are clearly not professional swimmers, and the camera keeps tight on them to dizzying proportions — likely to hide this fact. Or maybe because we’re in a cave, and there’s no room for things like cinematography. Flashlights hit the camera at a rate of one-hundred times per minute, and we’re often forced to squint at the screen, wondering where we’re looking and who at.
To be entirely honest, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged almost completely lost me in the murky depths. I was at my limit with the convenient plot tools, the poor dialogue, and jut and stop stake-raising… until the third act. I won’t spoil it as we’re pretty deep into the film by this point – but Roberts completely saves the film from shipwrecking in a way the first half doesn’t deserve. Sharks save the day, doing what they do best. Being camera-happy in sun-infested waters.
47 Meters Down: Uncaged is in theatres now. Are you catching it? Share your thoughts with the Nightmare on Film Street Community over on Twitter, Reddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!