How can you have a summer without a shark movie? You can’t! So get ready to dive into danger 47 METERS DOWN!
I was already aware of director Johannes Roberts’ work thanks to “Storage 24″. Roberts has a gift for building tension, but more importantly, throwing you off the scent of the expected. Without giving away any spoilers, the ultimate twist in 47 METERS DOWN is truly one of the finest “OMG” moments to come along in many a day, a perfect end to a film that has more than enough bite thanks to the building of unrelenting tension-riddled atmosphere.
We first meet sisters Lisa and Kate vacationing in Mexico. Older sister Lisa is somewhat of a bore, or so she’s been told by her ex for whom she is pining away. Lisa’s whole purpose in taking this trip is to show the ex that she’s not a bore, and can be as spontaneous and fun as the next person. Younger sister Kate is the upbeat energetic one in this family as she is game for anything, anytime, anywhere, as she evidences when hooking the girls up with two guys they meet, Louis and Ben.
It’s clear from the start that Louis and Ben are as fun-loving as Kate so when they propose a day trip to go shark cage-diving, she’s all in. Lisa, not so much, but she acquiesces to Lisa’s humorous needling and agrees to go along. On meeting the boys at the pier from where they will head out into open waters, Lisa gets cold feet, especially when she sees the boat, meets the captain, and sees the rusted cage and hoist. But, of course, she continues to give in to the whims of her little sister and boards the questionably seaworthy boat.
With brilliant blue water and a cloudless sky equally as blue and streaming with sunshine, it doesn’t seem like anything can go wrong, even when they arrive at a prime spot for shark encounters and the boys go beneath the surface in the cage, re-emerging all smiles with up close and personal shark selfies to show off. Getting excited on seeing the photos Louis and Ben captured, the girls don their wet suits and put on their scuba gear, ready to take the plunge. But as we learn, and quite frankly suspected all along, while Kate is an advanced diver, Lisa doesn’t know the first thing about how to scuba dive. Bluffing their way past the boat captain, Taylor, the girls make their cage dive.
Having the time of their lives, the girls have encountered the sharks, taken pictures but lost the camera loaned to them by the boys, and are ready to return to the surface when catastrophe strikes. The cable holding the cage breaks plummeting the girls 47 meters down beneath the surface. And that’s where we remain for the next approximately 70 minutes.
Written by Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera, our focus never falters as we not only watch Lisa and Kate struggle to survive at the bottom of the sea while awaiting help from above, but the characters are actually fleshed out and developed in this contained situation. We get to know each of the girls and their individual stories, becoming invested in their plight as they face seemingly insurmountable odds; to wit, oxygen tanks running low, a somewhat panicked Lisa, and a broken cage which sharks are circling as if it was the main course at Thanksgiving dinner. Standout is that Roberts and Riera have the girls not only reason out possible solutions to their problems, but these divergently different sisters come together in order to execute various survival tasks with each taking turns, overcoming fears, etc. While much of the dialogue between Kate and Lisa comes across more as comic-relief and elicits laughter every time you hear it, Roberts and Riera pepper the script with metaphor, particularly with the sharks in the water and the two-footed sharks on land – Louis and Ben.
Performance-wise, I wanted to see Mandy Moore’s Kate to get eaten from the start. Whining and annoying, Kate initially resonates as someone we don’t want saved from the sharks. Believe me, I was rooting for the sharks, but kudos to Moore who turns the character around in the third act, giving Kate some believable spine. Unfortunately though, it feels like too little too late. Claire Holt, on the other hand, deftly navigates the emotional and physical waters of 47 METERS DOWN and is not only likeable, but believable and resonant. Nothing, however, takes away from the herculean work of both women with their diving and underwater work. Spectacular! And yes, without a doubt Moore’s underwater panic feels beyond real which was undoubtedly a challenge given that as an actress she had to remain calm and focused and merely “act” panicked.
Matthew Modine, who is typically hit or miss for my money, is particularly well cast as Taylor. Modine gives off a questionable and ambiguous vibe from the moment we meet Taylor and see his rusty equipment and less than safe looking boat (uh, and an itty bitty first aid kit when you’re taking people out to see sharks just fuels arrogance and sketchiness, raising more than doubt that he knows what he’s doing). Because of Modine, the audience easily taps into the girls’ underwater fears that no help is coming despite his assurances that he was sending help. Yani Gellman just can’t seem to escape playing characters that always seem to have something “lurking” in their past or in their motives. (Think back to “Lizzie Maguire Movie” and his role as two-faced Paolo) But here as Louis, he definitely adds some very nice eye candy for the women, and guys, in the audience. Chris Johnson fills the bill as Javier with another in-and-out performance. Having seen him in so many tv one-offs over the years, he is always consistent and here is no different.
Visually 47 METERS DOWN is divine starting with the opening swimming pool underwater sequence with Kate swimming up under Lisa a la “Jaws”, flipping her and spilling red wine into the pool water. The slo-mo bleed of red wine into the greenish water of the pool (thanks to nice color correction and/or greener tint to the interior surface paint) is rich, gorgeous and prescient of what is to come. It also sets up a fabulous visual metaphor of the use of red and green (stop and go) which then permeates the film from gorgeous aerial photography of the Continental Shelf waters to the 47 meters down no visibility tinge, and the judicious introduction and reminder of blood – and ultimately – sharks.
Having seen the film last year prior to its completion and then subsequently for the DVD/Blu-ray release as “In The Deep” (Check it out. My pull quote is on the box.), the strides made with blood effects and physical encounters with sharks are beautifully rendered as they lead up to the film’s final twist. The shark CGI and VFX is exceedingly well done, so much so that you forget this is CGI. The authenticity factor is off the charts. I hope some of this technology is what’s being employed in the upcoming “Meg” adaptation of Steve Alten’s book. Similarly, the CGI and/or prosthetics of shark torn limbs is superbly rendered and authentic looking.
The real magic of 47 METERS DOWN is the work of cinematographer Mark Silk who delivers some wonderful visuals capturing all the vibrancy and excitement of a coastal Mexican vacation with saturation, candlelight, ocean reflection. Beautifully lensed. But when we get to the underwater photography – fabulous. We see wonder and beauty, but also the murky fear of the unknown which just feeds the well crafted twisting story by Roberts and Ernest Riera. A true synergy between the story and the visuals with the visuals telling us more than dialogue. Stand-out is the film’s third act which boasts a very cool massive shark attack with bloodied water and gruesome gutted body parts, all chillingly choreographed both visually and with superb editing and pace.
Sound design is critical in a film like this and sound designer Alex Outhwaite makes the sound a character in the film. Breathing, crackling audio, panicked screams underwater (where no one can hear you scream), immerses us in the situation. We are straining as hard as Lisa and Kate to hear some sound or signal from the surface. And when air runs out and we are met with dead silence, the effect is chilling. You stop breathing with each girl as her tank runs out. Notable is the visual key of showing the bar gauge – but not too excess – so the audience is aware that the clock is ticking on many fronts.
Hand-in-hand with Outhwaite’s sound design is the score by tomandandy. Suspenseful in its own right, key is that director Roberts doesn’t rely on the score to lead the audience’s emotion. There is an aural marriage of silence, score, and sound that creates enough requisite fear to have one on their edge of their seat, scared to death, ready to run from the theatre at any moment should a shark leap off the screen.
Dive in! The water’s warm. . .and bloody 47 METERS DOWN.
Directed by Johannes Roberts
Written by Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera
Cast: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine, Yani Gellman, Santiago Segura, Chris Johnson