We all know sharks are awesome. They are giant menacing fish with too many teeth to count that eat everything in their wake. But despite them being brilliant, their appearances in movies have usually been utter crap. So while penguins can say they’ve been in many good movies, sharks can say they’ve been in Jaws. And maybe Finding Nemo if you count that as a shark movie, but I don’t. Usually, they are in schlockfests such as Sharknado and Mega Shark Vs Crocosaurus, the latter is real trust me, but I feel it’s time for them to make a serious and terrifying comeback. Is 47 Meters Down the movie where they finally do that?
Lisa (Mandy Moore, Tangled) and Kate (Claire Holt, H20: Just Add Water) are sisters vacationing in Mexico. On a night out they meet Javier (Chris Johnson, The Vampire Diaries) who persuades them to go swimming with sharks the next day. They agree, but are plunged into something out of their nightmares when the shark cage breaks and sends them to the bottom of the ocean with several sharks looking for the next meal swimming around.
Let’s make this clear from the off. This is meant to be a serious shark movie. Most movies in this niche genre are incredibly silly but are meant to be. Jersey Shore Shark Attack and Swamp Shark have crap special effects and hokey acting, but they were never meant to be more than B-Movies, something to fill the time on SyFy. So you can’t really judge them too harshly, you just have to get in the right mood and laugh at how bad it all is. But here, 47 Meters Down is clear it’s trying something different. It doesn’t want you to laugh at a terrible CGI model of what a shark looks like in a magic eye picture, it wants to be very tense and most importantly it wants you to be scared.
It’s got a good idea at it’s core either. Send two characters to the very bottom of the ocean, make it clear there are many hungry sharks between them and the boat and just allow things to happen. And yet, the movie doesn’t really deliver on those scares. Firstly, the lack of characters does hurt. One of the reasons slasher movies have lots of characters is because they need some to be killed. It’s not a bloodlust thing or the audience enjoying watching people getting murdered, it’s about establishing how big a threat the monster is. And yes, it’s pretty clear that sharks are a massive threat without some kills. But to really amp up the tension, you just needed a few extra bodies in that shark cage and one idiot to try and swim up. Shark eats the fool, we know these sharks are out for blood much quicker and much more effectively than the exposition we do get.
But with there being far less characters, maybe we can make our two leads like actual human beings? After all, big cast horror flicks usually have to settle to broad tropes because of the lack of time they have, this movie actually has the chance to make their leads realistic people we empathise for reasons other than they are cute girls. And considering it takes this movie half an hour before we even get to the ocean, it has the time to do this as well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. All you know about these characters is that Lisa is nervous and recently broke up with her boyfriend while Kate is outgoing. That’s it. The 30 minutes before we get close to a shark is spent discussing this two personality traits as well as moving the plot on so we see the god damned sharks. Basically, what you end up with is two girls you don’t really know at the bottom of the ocean. Heck when they’ve got the scuba gear on, you can barely tell them apart.
This all leads to the biggest problem this movie has, it’s unbearably boring. The director Johannes Roberts (The Other Side Of The Door) would tell you this movie is built on tension, I’d tell you they didn’t have the budget to give you that many sharks, which do look pretty good in fairness. So for long periods what happens is that we get the two sisters panicking to each other about the air they have, but not many actual sharks or scares. Thankfully they do ramp up towards the end of the movie, but by then you’ve checked out mentally. You don’t care about the characters, the sharks are barely doing anything and tend to give up pretty quickly when they do show up and the only fun you have is guessing which of the sisters is going to die. It’s a horror movie, at least one has to get chomped.
I’m not going to condemn 47 Meters Down as a completely terrible movie though as it does have a nice swerve towards the end. I don’t want to go into much detail about it, it is the only reason to watch this movie and it would be cruel to reveal it because of it, but this twist is well set up and well executed. It’s the only time I really sat up and started to be really interested with what was going off on screen because it was rather novel and actually made things that bit darker. It shows there was some creativity and thought put into this film and maybe with an increased budget, there might have been something here.
But a good swerve cannot save a bad movie from being that. For 95% of it’s run time, 47 Meters Down is a movie that manages to make sharks very boring. Despite having plenty of time to develop them, the characters aren’t even fun broad archetypes, they are personality-less lasses who probably needed a close shave with a shark to at least give them an interesting story to tell at the pub. You can get away with that in big cast horror movies where they are designed to be killed by the monster, not when you have such a tiny cast like this one. Things like Sharknado may be a much worse movie on paper, but they are far more entertaining than 47 Meters Down.