The film dives right in, as it were, with a mishap: two divers, sisters Kate and Lisa (Claire Holt and Mandy Moore) are stuck at the bottom of the sea (where Ringo star would rather be) when a winch malfunctions and their shark cage plummets to the very well-lit depths.
More properly called 40 Meters Down (the danger limit of experienced divers with respect to nitrogen narcosis) the film is caught between dual impulses: survivalist horror and animal attack. To the extent that it succeeds at neither, is surprising.
Their oxygen-tanks work the same way a ticking time bomb does in a spy movie, a plot device that should keep things headed in the right direction as far as interest is concerned. But again, with so little invested in Kate or Lisa it’s hard to take any more than a detached interest in the proceedings.They yak a bit on the boat, and are condescended to by the Mexican crew. Even when the sharks inevitably appear, it doesn’t spark any drama.
What’s most galling about 47 Meters Down, is that sharks aren’t even needed. Two people trapped in darkness is enough, or should be enough, to propel a narrative in the right hands.
When it comes to underwater suspense, Dario Argento gives us a master class engaging all of the senses in his 1980 opus, Inferno. There, the silence followed by the deadened “drip drip” of the soundtrack and angelic surrealism primes the pump for a bona fide floating corpse scare — when Rose explores the watery depths of a New York City basement. In the hands of director Johannes Roberts, there’s no sense of depth in either sense of the word.
One of the most terrifying aspects of the deep blue sea, is the unrelenting almost existential darkness, something it shares with space. In the superior Open Water, the threshold of what’s on terra firm and the evil down below is played up. When the lost and exhausted divers in Open Water come up for air, there’s gasping terror of near drowning, and when they sink under the waves, there’s the threat of being attacked from the underside by sharks.
Spielberg had a good handle on this too in Jaws, giving us time to come up for air as the narrative unspools.
47 Meters Down by contrast, is waterlogged crapola, redeemed sorta by an OK ending.
** (out of 5)
[check out our podcast of 47 Meters Down!]