Thursday, June 22, 2017
Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong in the best horror thrillers. “Storage 24” director Johannes Roberts’ shark-swarming spectacle “47 Meters Down” (*** OUT OF ****) may not be as entertaining as last summer’s delicious shark derring-do “The Shallows.” Nevertheless, this hour and a half epic will keep you poised on the edge of your seat as you gnaw your knuckles in dread. Surprisingly enough, this raw-edged thriller almost went straight-to-video. As deceptively simple and straightforward as they come, “47 Meters Down” doesn’t pull any punches, particularly with its surprise ending. Indeed, this is not your usual summer movie where everything works out in the surf for the heroines. Although it doesn’t let anybody off the hook, Roberts’ eighth big-screen directing endeavor holds its characters accountable for their poor choices. Most summer blockbusters serve up a delightful, guilt-free ending where all narrative threads are neatly knotted and everybody lives happily-ever after. If you think about it, “47 Meters Down” is the kind of movie that should chomp up summer audiences. Mandy Moore and Claire Holt are cast as older and younger sisters respectively, who decide to swim with sharks to alleviate boredom. Ultimately, they wind up like earlier western pioneers who tempted hostile Native Americans and had to circle the wagons to fight them off. Moore and Holt are the two primary characters, with several peripheral characters, such as the crew of the boat they take out to see sharks. Otherwise, Moore and Holt try to work things out for each other under circumstances that would terrible to endure considering the predicament.
Happily, the premise of “47 Meters Down” is both simple and straightforward. Lisa (Mandy Moore of “License to Wed”) and Kate (Claire Holt of “The Vampire Diaries”) are on a vacation in Mexico. Lisa’s boyfriend dumps her because their relationship lacks spontaneity. Kate draws the withdrawn Lisa back out into the open, and they date Louis (Yani Gellman of “Jason X”) and Benjamin (Santiago Segura of “Hand of God”), a couple of local guys. Yani and Benjamin tell the gals about a guy, Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine of “Full Metal Jacket”), who offers an underwater shark sightseeing excursion. The gals are confined to a shark cage just below the waterline to admire the awesome majesty of the Great Whites. No sooner have they climbed into the cage than one wants to take a picture of the other. Lisa takes an underwater snapshot camera from Kate, but she accidentally drops it in the drink. The second the camera hits the hits the water, a Great White shark appears as if conjured with its jaws agape, and the camera vanishes into the shark’s gullet. Mind you, British director Johannes Roberts had set up the situation before this ominous accident with Yani and Benjamin hovering five meters below the surface in the cage as Great Whites had circled them. Nothing happened to the dudes. Initially, everything goes well after Lisa loses the camera and Captain Taylor submerges them five meters below the surface. Lisa begins to have second thoughts and the girls have had enough of enough. Suddenly, something goes haywire and the winch holding them suspended in the water breaks. Trapped in the cage, the two sisters plunge to the bottom of the ocean. No sooner has the cage slammed into the ocean floor than the whole wench plummets atop the cage. Lisa and Kate can communicate with each other because their diving masks are equipped with microphones. Deep down as they are, however, they cannot communicate with Taylor. Naturally, this is the point at which the heroines behave like characters in a scary movie. Kate swims 40 meters up to communicate with Captain Taylor. Repeatedly, Taylor warns them to stay in the cage because sharks are swarming all over the place. Instead, Taylor says that he is sending one of his crewmen, Javier (Chris Johnson of “xXx: State of the Union”), down to give them replacement air tanks. Nevertheless, Taylor warns that switching air tanks during a dive can induce nitrogen narcosis which produce hallucinations. During their time on the bottom, Kate proves either her bravery or her stupidity. A shark almost munches her, and she scrambles to take refuge in a nearby cave. Eventually, Lisa gets abandons the cage, and she has a close encounter with an open-mouthed shark charging at her.
During one harrowing scene, Lisa and Kate find themselves in the midst of a flotilla of sharks. Roberts spends more time on creating suspense in “47 Meters Down” than dwelling on blood and gore. Roberts is wise enough not to wear out her welcome, and “47 Meters Down” clocks in at a trim 89 minutes with the action set almost entirely at sea. The first part of the action takes place on land as Roberts and co-scenarist Ernest Riera get the girls to go out on a date with two locals who intrigue them about the shark cage gimmick. Predictably, Lisa is too far timid to take such a dare. Kate goads her older sister into doing it so she can prove that she isn’t as dull as her former boyfriend has claimed. The remainder of “47 Meters Down” occurs at sea. Of course, none of those Great Whites prowling the depths where our damsels-in-distress await them are genuine predators. The CGI of the Great Whites is flawless, and “Stardust” lenser Mark Silk’s cinematography is appropriately murky given the ocean depths and inspires paranoia. Just when the gals look like they are alone, the Great Whites materialize with cavernous jaws ajar! Although several peripheral characters inhabit this PG-13 epic, the action focuses most of its time on the sisters. These sympathetic souls never get a break, and you will fear for them as they deal with one setback after another. Just remember, no matter what happens during “47 Meters Down,” you must stay in your seat.
(Author’s note: if you enjoyed “47 Meters Down,” you should be the 1971 documentary “Blue Water White Death.”)