Synopsis – Four teen girls diving in a ruined underwater city quickly learn they’ve entered the territory of the deadliest shark species in the claustrophobic labyrinth of submerged caves.
My Take – With the massive success of Meg last summer, followed by this year’s Alexandre Aja directed Crawl, it seems like we in for an aquatic horror renaissance. Released back, in 2017, 47 Meters Down, a film written and directed by Johannes Roberts (The Strangers: Prey at Night), was a horror hit no saw coming.
Officially set to release on DVD/VOD in the summer of 2016, the film found release on the big screen after finding itself a new distributor. A simplistic tale about two sisters who spent most of the run-time fending off multiple sharks from the relative creature comforts of a diving cage, was haunting and surprisingly well executed.
Even as the cage underlined the compact nature and the tricky ways that the film elongated its 85 minutes run time, it was director Johannes Roberts‘s techniques that made the experience truly memorable. As a result, the horror film ended up grabbing a whopping $62.6 million at the box office on a $5.3 million budget.
With that kind of return on investment, it’s no wonder Entertainment Studios quickly announced a sequel. While the setting and the cast has changed completely, the sequel sticks to its predecessor’s simple techniques, hereby making this yet another grim and suspenseful entry into a well-worn sub-genre, where we witness a new pair of sisters sharing waters with a pair of hungry and sadistic sharks.
Though it doesn’t reach the same depths of tension as its predecessor it finds a slasher-like fun route to swim towards a wonderfully ridiculous finale.
If nothing else, the film is another showcase for Roberts’ considerable skills as a director, who despite still needing work on creating more engaging victims, knows exactly what to do once hell breaks loose.
The story follows Mia (Sophie Nélisse), who along with her family consisting of step-sister Sasha (Corinne Fox), and set-mother, Jennifer (Nia Long), have recently moved to Yucatan, Mexico, so her father Grant (John Corbett) can excavate and maps out a newly discovered, underwater Mayan city.
In an effort to make the non-traditional sisters bond, Grant buys them tickets to tour boat which takes them to shark infested waters, and provides a glimpse at the predators from behind the comforts of proofed glass.
However, they end up diverting from their scheduled plans when Sasha’s friends Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Rose Stallone) pick them up for a trip beyond the usual tourist spots. Finding themselves with the unique opportunity to explore the underwater city without their dad finding out from a different hole, the group heads down for quick swim. However, unknown to them, in the abandoned ruins, a pair of blind ancient sharks have also been dwelling for a long time.
Yes, the film takes the basic premise of the original film and blows it up. Like most horror sequels, the body count is bigger and the death scenes are much more elaborate. While the film takes a good bit of time to get going, it really picks up around the halfway point, delivering set piece after set piece of unrelenting terror. This is precisely the type of film that begs you to leave your logic and reasoning at the cinema door.
The plot points are dropped like boulders in the dialogue and allowed to sit there until they’re unceremoniously picked up later. The film has far too many coincidences and moments of pure luck to craft any semblance of realism, but that’s not important as we here to watch some sharks right?
The characters are also thinly sliced archetype, for example, you know the minute Nicole is introduced that she’s going to be the troublemaker who’ll lead the rest to their doom, and good gravy she does not disappoint. She’s an entertaining fool and serves as a nice contrast to Alexa who’s far smarter and more capable than supporting characters typically get to be.
But the film is smart enough to know that it’s less about their sense of character than their knowledge in the water – and thankfully, all of them have extensive personal experience with diving suits. That doesn’t quite give them an automatic fin up when they’re face to face with a dead-eyed, weathered Great White, but it firmly separates the film from its predecessor to the point where it’s basically only a sequel in name.
These four women are surprisingly smart about checking their equipment and even more historically curious than one would expect from teenagers of this generation.
Here, director Johannes Roberts clearly had a bigger budget as he was able to have much better set pieces and expanded settings in the underwater cave ruins and it works very well for the overall story and atmosphere. Director Roberts and screenwriter Ernest Riera are cruel masterminds in escalating the situation, as the alabaster Great White nips at their toes in the pitch dark or swims lazily right over their heads.
One particular death pushes the boundaries of the rating so far that it’s honestly a bit surprising that it didn’t earn an R-rating. It does become more difficult to suspend disbelief as the film enters its climax, however, as characters suffer injuries that should kill them but they somehow manage so swim away unscathed.
These ancient sharks are gnarly looking, and their blindness only contributes to their imposing appearance. They can sneak their way around the various pillars and altars of the city, barely missing our submerged teens.
That being said, the design of the Mayan ruins is spectacular and makes for an appropriately creepy setting. Whereas the first film was limited to one location (the cage), the sequel provides a plethora of different locales ranging from catacombs filled with human remains, a deep chasm plagued by swift currents and (eventually) the beautiful open waters of the Yucatán.
Of course, not all of it works. There’s one or two too many jump scares, and perhaps to compensate for the absurdity of the last film’s climax, this film’s final coup de grace is both incredibly operatic and stupid at the same time. But over and over, they find new ways to terrorize the humans whether it’s through a harrowing sequence with a flashing diver locator, relentless whirlpools, or an extended sequence involving a pulley.
The sequel has also drawn a lot of comparison to The Descent (2005), mainly for its claustrophobic feel, the film lacks the sophistication and nuanced character development that made that Neil Marshall directed masterpiece so special.
Performance wise, the girls, Sophie Nélisse, Corinne Foxx (daughter of Jamie Foxx), Brianne Tju, and Sistine Rose Stallone (daughter of Sylvester Stallone) are energetic and charismatic, and are fairly likable enough to keep viewers invested in the fun.
However, John Corbett, Brec Bassinger and Nia Long are only around briefly, and have pretty much nothing to do. On the whole, ’47 Meters Down: Uncaged’ is a silly yet enjoyable shark film that is both laughable and thrilling.
Directed – Johannes Roberts
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 90 minutes