Moore and Holt can't save themselves from 47 Meters Down
by Steve Pulaski
47 Meters Down is another film like this year's Rock Dog or Lost in London: Livewhere the interworkings behind the film's release and the extraneous circumstances that hindered its ability to materialize are more interesting than the film at hand.
Last summer, Dimension Films was planning a DVD/video-on-demand release of a film called In the Deep in early August. However, in late July, it was reported that Dimension sold the film to Entertainment Studios, who wound up cancelling the August DVD/VOD release and pushed for a theatrical release on June 16th the following year. Despite this fast-tracked change of release, DVD copies of In the Deep were indeed released to some retailers and are now extremely rare being that the film was purchased by Entertainment Studios, who changed the title to 47 Meters Down.
If 47 Meters Down recoups its meager $5 million budget and whatever scant finances were spent to market the humble little shark-thriller, then it has done its job at justifying the theatrical expense. But be that as it may, this has all the hallmarks of a film like Pressure,Shark Lake, or any other myriad of aquatic horror films that were VOD-destined but lucky enough to score screentime in theaters across the country, especially in this case, on one of the biggest movie-weekends of the year.
The film focuses on sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt), who take a vacation to Mexico originally intended for Lisa and her boyfriend. Some admirable attempts at backstory are conceived when Lisa informs Kate that it was her boyfriend that broke up with her, confiding in her sibling that she is tired of being boring and lacking adventurous qualities of those with whom she surrounds herself. This is why she's apprehensive but primed to agree to her sister's plan of going cage-diving in the deep sea to observe fish and sharks a few meters below the surface.
The two hitch a ride with Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine) upon meeting one of his workers Javier (Chris J. Johnson), and they suit up in scuba-suits and oxygen-tanks to prepare for a sea voyage. After being submerged for several minutes, Captain Taylor goes to pull them and the cage back to shore until a tether and winch break, sending the cage and the girls plummeting 47 meters down to the ocean-floor, where pressure is high and oxygen is dwindling. Stranded in the shark-infested depths of the ocean-floor, imprisoned by the large metal bars of the cage, the girls can only communicate with Captain Taylor if they ascend roughly six or seven meters, and even then, they run the risk of succumbing to pressure sickness and nitrogen bubbles entering their brain, also known as "the bends."
This is a tense situation, but staring at the same situation of two largely undeveloped characters screaming and panting while surrounded by the murky, dark-blue waters of the ocean makes for a repetitive moviegoing experience. It could've worked, and it almost does, but it doesn't feel as gripping as it should. It's the kind of film that's biggest hurdle is trying to make your mind not wander while you're watching it, as you witness a similar line of events unfold over the course of an admittedly short but marginally restless 84 minutes.
Moore and Holt are proven screen-presences, but there isn't enough of them before they are stranded and in desperate need of help compared to a film like Open Water. This makes 47 Meters Down a bit more difficult to connect with, and lessens the amount of human interest on display. Inevitably, it suffers by comparison to last year's early-summer surprise The Shallows, the Blake Lively-vehicle that worked because of great tension and the fact that it was a one-woman show.
At one point in the third act, 47 Meters Down is inches away from ending on a high-note, and by that, I mean a low-note - a melancholic, realistic scenario akin to Frank Darabont's The Mist until it opts for an ending that's far less risky. To its credit, the film commits to realism in terms of how it captures the girls' response and isn't overloaded with stupid decisions, but rather, occasionally harrowing moments of oceanic pressure choking the two protagonists. But all of this ends up waterlogged in a film that's on the cusp of being gripping, but too often treads on being tedious.
Steve's Grade: C-