47 Meters Down

It’s hard to bond underwater. So when it comes to establishing characters, heavy breathing 47 Meters Down  ain’t gonna cut it.

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!]

The Ritual

We’re in the back-country, minus a backstory. At least with respect to what’s lurking in the woods.

The Ritual is both a solid effort, as well as wasted opportunity, burning out like a booster rocket after such a strong, claustrophobic, and very disquieting start.

The setup ain’t exactly reinventing the wheel, it’s that shop-worn intro we’ve seen in hundreds of horrors: a bunch of people looking for something to do on vacation. You know that never turns out well.

Here, it’s a bunch of 30-something Brits on the cusp of adulthood (some closer to the threshold than others) debating whether to do another bar piss-up in Amsterdam, or something a bit more off the beaten path: literally, as the case may be.

When one of them dies in a horrible liquor store holdup, they honor his memory by doing his travel itinerary suggestion: a hike in the wilds of Sweden. “The show must go on” as Queen sang and the crew Phil, Dom, Hutch and Luke  is off to remote Scandinavia.

These gents seem urbane, educated…you know…exactly the type who should not be venturing out into the bush. So when one of them comes up with the idea of a shortcut to get to the village quicker (or more accurately, to the village bar) they all chime in, “OK.”

Sense of place is paramount in horror. And this set up is incredible. These dark woods are creepy as all hell. As is the abandoned cabin. And what they encounter in the forest.

Director David Bruckner of V/H/S fame graces us with atmosphere that’s tough to match.

The Ritual comes up short with its antagonists though, and can’t sustain its terrific energy for the back third.

For those interested in bickering / male bonding / wilderness films, definitely check out the superior Rituals, aka “The Canadian Deliverance,” Southern Comfort, or White Raven.

*** (out of 5)