47 Meters Down (2017)

I love sharks…even though most of them scare the shit out of me. Kinda like aircraft…love watching planes fly…but have issues with being up in them. It’s just how I’m programmed. As a kid (6-8ish years old), for some reason, I glommed onto the work of Dr. Eugenie Clark (aka The Shark Lady) and found her stories and research from the 1950’s / 60’s fascinating….and scary. Being down in the depths with these carnivorous, instinctive monsters is one concept that my mind actively reels away from, and even at that age, I knew that this lady had ‘balls’. Then I saw ‘Jaws’. Like so many of the people in the generation before mine, that film scared the shit outta lil ole me. What’s interesting is that having Bruce The Mechanical Shark fuck up so many times on set back in the mid-70’s forced Spielberg into a creative decision that ultimately boosted the ‘Ooommph!’ of the tension his cinematic adaptation was hinged upon. The fact that the shark is kept largely hidden engages our imagination…and our ancient instinctive fear of being eaten by something we can’t see or fight. Couple that with an overactive imagination…and my fear of water, that I can’t see the bottom of, was born. Since ’75, there’s been a fascination in Hollywood (and beyond) with casting sharks as relentless villains, especially recently…despite the disservice the resulting public perspective has on legitimate conservation efforts. A couple new flicks popped on the scene last year that caught my eye, as they both definitely look like better shark fare than shit like ‘Deep Blue Sea’ (1999) and the fuckin idiotic ‘Sharknado’ franchise. They were ‘The Shallows’ (yet to see) and this one…’47 Meters Down’.
So we got pummeled yesterday by an unexpected February snow-storm; a storm that came about quickly enough and fiercely enough (for our area, at least) to necessitate closing up shop and booking it home before the driving conditions got REALLY treacherous (it didn’t matter…they were anyway), and thus getting a very welcome extended weekend. Having a ‘free’ day now, my girlfriend and I embarked on a ‘sweats and movies’ kinda afternoon, as the snow thickly and silently fell outside. After we watched her choice: the new ‘Goosebumps’ movie (which was fun and harmless, a good time-waster), I poked around and saw that ’47 Meters Down’ had been added to Netflix. I’d heard about this movie on and off, from the pre-production stage, and casually followed its progress. This one went through some weird shit behind the scenes. It had a different title at one point, the ownership of the movie changed hands, it was destined for a VOD release but, at the last minute, was put up for a modest theatrical run. Those events had me curious…and since Mandy Moore and I are in love (she just doesn’t know it yet), I wanted to see what she could bring to a genre title like this. Quick side-note: I still strongly believe that Mandy Moore would’ve made a great ‘April O’Neil’ in the dumb live-action adaptations of TMNT that’ve been recently shat at us, that currently have Megan Fox inexplicably in the role. Just saying. Anyway…so I saw this one sitting there on Netflix, as the snow continued to cascade down outside…and made it my choice….after cracking a fresh beer.
’47 Meters Down’ follows two American sisters, ‘Lisa’ (Mandy Moore) and ‘Kate’ (Claire Holt) as they party their way around Mexico, as ‘Lisa’ is experiencing relationship issues and is using the trip to cope. Along the way, they meet a pair of sexy Mexican dudes who want to whisk them away for an ‘off the books’ adventure, which happens to be dipping yourself 5 meters below a rickety boat, in a rusted to hell shark cage, in open water, after some asshole chums the ocean with blood n guts to attract some big-ass predators. After 3 ‘Jaws’-sized Great Whites turn up for lunch, the two siblings climb into the tetanus-inducing cage for their turn at some deep-sea shenanigans…which quickly turn to terror when the piece-of-shit winch breaks and sends them plummeting…you guessed it…47 meters down, to the ocean’s rocky bottom. With desperately limited air and even more limited options, they try to figure out how to get to the surface alive, while 3 monstrous sharks prowl out in the murk.
I hit PLAY on this one not expecting much. I knew that it had a limited budget ($5.5 million USD) and I knew that it’s initial release was uncertain, so I had to wonder if it was just a shit product that no one had any faith in…don’t laugh…it’s happened before. Happily, I can report that I had a better time with this movie than expected. Actually, now that I’ve seen it, I can see why someone, at the 11th Hour, decided that this movie COULD have an effective life on The Big Screen, because I found this film to be surprisingly well-crafted, which would help explain how this movie turned out to be a financial smash for those involved, to the tune of about $45 million USD at the Box Office.
From a technical perspective, I appreciated how much of this movie was just two actresses, there underwater…doing their thing…for real. A couple of scenes and shots very much reminded me of one of my favorite James Cameron films, 1989’s ‘The Abyss’ (where’s the Blu-ray, Jim?!), in that SO MUCH of the film is played out while submerged, and for extended periods too. Some effort definitely went into the compositions and editing…and I think it worked nicely. Another area where these lower-budget ‘creature features’ usually ‘lack’ is in the effects department, where the sharks are concerned. They usually look like the ridiculous CG creations that they are. Happily, I was mostly OK with the CG for the Great Whites. They didn’t over-do it with excessive, badly-rendered shots of the huge fish, instead just giving us what we needed. They were still CG sharks…but they were decent CG sharks.
From a story perspective, this is pretty bare-bones. But a deep and complex narrative isn’t needed for a ‘fight for survival’ flick like this…just tension. And tension we most certainly get! My girlfriend and I both admitted at points that we were feeling the stress of what we were being shown, which is a testament to the filmmakers and their deft embrace of the ‘less is more’ concept. There are a few scenes where a character is off on her own, for reasons, and is utterly isolated in this murky void, where giant, toothy beasts patrol unseen…until they’re suddenly there!! I was physically wound up for a couple of these sequences, as one of my nightmares is to find myself alone in a totally hostile environment, like the bottom of the fucking ocean, stalked by huge monsters in the dark that strike without warning and will utterly shred you to bloody little pieces of chum with zero regard for mercy or reason. So, as a ‘suspense’ film, I think they nailed it.
If I had to gripe, I would say that I found how they chose to depict just how decrepit the equipment they were using to be a little overblown. I mean, the entire shark cage is rusted…every inch. Along with the winch. No one in their right mind would climb in (a fact that the movie luckily addresses). I would’ve preferred at least somewhat passable equipment, that happens to have a faulty piece…not IS a faulty piece. There’s also a sequence in the 3rd Act that involves a hallucination that I thought was WAY too detailed to work as the ‘head fake’ it’s intended to be. I understood it from a narrative perspective, but it just seemed to be a little too much of a manipulative ‘gotcha’ moment. I also think that there were some missed opportunities to really shock the audience. The violence that does occur is mostly off-screen. There are a couple of attacks (the girls aren’t the only ones in the area) that are of the ‘giant creature bursts in from nowhere and person is abruptly gone’ school of film-making. There was at least one attack that could’ve been FAR more effective if we’d gotten to see what was happening. Failing that, they also could’ve used sound to convey more of the horror, as everybody’s helmet was radio-capable, so the screams or sounds transmitted to those in the area as a shark victim is torn asunder could be equally terrifying…but they didn’t take advantage of that possibility either.
All in all, ’47 Meters Down’ was more fun and effective than I expected. It was technically well done, impressively so on it’s meagre budget. Both lead actresses seemed invested in their performances, especially the challenging physical aspects…and were both pleasant on the eyes (always a bonus!). The simple concept and foreboding location went a long way under the capable production design and effective direction and, as a thriller, it turned out just fine. If you give it the chance, it will probably get under your skin. It’s not a perfect film, as there were some stretches in logic and liberal distortions of science (available air vs water pressure + depth? shark’s piss-poor aim?), but those weren’t enough to cause any serious gripes. I’m glad this movie was given the chance on the Big Screen, and that it made back a seriously impressive return, as the effort was clearly put into this simple little thriller of a movie. If you like thrillers of this type, or ‘shark movies’ in general, this one is definitely worth your time, in my humble opinion. This movie goes the distance…47 meters down!

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