Steven Spielberg once noted that Piranha (1978) was the best of the “Jaws ripoffs.” It may be safe to say that had it been reversed, Jaws may have been considered an effective “Piranha ripoff” in its day.
In this respect, 47 Meters Down may as well be an Open Water clone, and an effective one at that.
Like Piranha did in the footsteps of Jaws, 47 Meters Down retells a story we’re all familiar with. Two college-aged sisters, Mandy Moore and Claire Holt, travel to Mexico for a little fun in the sun. While attempting to cage dive with Great White Sharks, the winch breaks and the cage plummets 47 meters to the ocean floor. With just enough light to see each other, the sisters are forced to make life-or-death choice while their oxygen slowly runs out. Oh, and there’s a swarm of Great White Sharks waiting for the first chomp.
Needless to say, their vacation doesn’t go that well.
The movie is certainly nothing spectacular, and that’s to be expected. Anyone familiar with the Open Water films knows this premise all too well. Two (or more) vacationers get lost at sea and are forced to survive the unforgiving nature of the ocean.
Had the casting been off or the pacing rushed, 47 Meters Down could have been a genuinely bad film worthy of the title, Underwater.
What saves it, though, is the fact that it was created with maximum effort. The cast and crew didn’t waste their time with putting it together, certainly not Mandy Moore or Claire Holt, who gave wonderful performances – and there’s nothing 3D about it, thankfully.
In the first thirty minutes, we’re greeted to a handful of images that effectively connect us with the dangerous road, or swim, ahead. A cup of wine foreshadows the blood that will flow, and a decapitated fish is enough to tell us that blood will flow from hunted prey.
The majority of the film is set on the bottom of the ocean in a rusty, disintegrating cage. There is only enough light to see for a few feet. Once you venture out beyond the cage, you risk either vanishing forever into the abyss or falling victim to a shark, the only creature that can see and breathe in this alien world. As for the sharks, all of them are computer animated creations, but they’re done well enough that they’re believable. They don’t growl, roar, or pull off any acrobatic stunts that we see in our Syfy Original trash these days. The sharks were carefully crafted and designed to look as real as possible, and that’s what’s needed to make a truly effective “shark movie” in this case. I wouldn’t say 47 Meters Down is exactly a shark movie, but once they appear, there’s no doubt that they play a major life-or-death role for Moore and Holt.
As for the performances, I would say this is the film’s greatest strength.
Mandy Moore plays the timid, cautious Lisa while Claire Holt is the adventurous and daring Kate. Are such generic names deliberate? Maybe. It certainly allows for the audience to project themselves into the “Joe Everyman” characters a little more.
Once hitting the ocean floor, and their oxygen begins running out, both have to utilize whatever strengths they have in order to survive. Both Moore and Holt give very believable performances, despite the series of unfortunate events falling upon them (literally, sometimes). After enduring numerous encounters with sharks, the physiological effects of low oxygen, and the pains of personal injury, I was half expecting for the girls to make a break for the surface, only to get whacked by a Russian submarine passing through.
That, in of itself, tends to become a nuisance – so many bad things happening in a short period that you tell yourself over and over again that it would have been safer for the girls to stay on land.
Then again, the film also raises a question we must all ask ourselves. What would I do in a situation like this? As Moore and Holt are torn between rational decisions and primal instincts, their performance may as well reflect a certain reality for us. There is a clear difference between how we perceive ourselves in times of survival, and our behavior for when it’s actually happening. Moore and Holt deliver an effective image of two average individuals faced with these circumstances, leaving us thankful that it’s not us enduring this test.
If there’s any lesson from this film, it may as well be summed up on the advertisement I saw in the cinema’s main entrance.
Stay out of the water.
Not a bad movie overall. Where it may lack an original concept, it makes up for with good performances and visual effects. And it's nice to see Matthew Modine again.