If you haven’t seen The Shallows, go watch The Shallows. If you didn’t like The Shallows, you definitely won’t like 47 Meters Down. 47 Meters Down feels like an Asylum version of The Shallows, a straight-to-VOD copycat film that somehow landed on the big screen. No, literally.
Back in July of 2016, 47 Meters Down—then known as In the Deep—was set to be released straight-to-DVD (in other words, not considered marketable enough to be released in theaters). You can still find the listing for In the Deep on Amazon. However, when The Shallows surpassed expectations and made over $100 million worldwide, investors sensed an opportunity. They nixed the DVD release date (even after some critics had received their copies), changed the title and opted for a theatrical release.
47 Meters Down is directed by Johannes Roberts, creator of movies such as Forest of the Damned, where a group of friends fight off naked bisexual female monsters. The movie opens on two sisters, played by Mandy Moore (This is Us) and Claire Holt (The Vampire Diaries) vacationing in Mexico. They decide to swim with the sharks but naturally get trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean floor.
Although the two main characters (other than the sharks) are female, and they have names (Lisa and Kate), it is debatable whether this movie actually passes the Bechdel test. The film starts with a conversation about a breakup: Stuart, Lisa’s now-ex, thinks Lisa is “too boring”. Kate uses Stuart’s words to justify and manipulate Lisa into shark diving with them. Written by Roberts and collaborator Ernest Riera, the dialogue always feels unnatural, like bad improv. Frequently and sloppily dubbed, Lisa and Kate are able to communicate underwater, but their characters use this opportunity to describe what the audience can already see.
As you listen to the rest of the theatre not-so-subtly discuss how garbage this movie is, Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket), playing the ship’s captain, then explains the rules. The girls need to conserve air, they should stay in their cage if they want to survive and they can’t just swim directly to the surface or else they’ll get the Bends (a decompression sickness) that leads to death. Of course, the movie would be boring if they followed those steps, so the girls routinely break every rule in order to create maximum thrill.
While The Shallows used a kind of traumatic gamification to keep the audience engaged, 47 Meters Down is just trauma. To say that the viewing experience is frustrating is an understatement. The characters have no defining characteristics and nothing to do, so all the audience does is watch as they speculate wildly or pointlessly risk their lives. The sharks appear randomly and the scares are too quick and aggressive to really be effective. The effects are consistently mediocre and the audience has no sense of space (not even in a creepy or claustrophobic way, just in an unnecessarily confusing way). The underwater cinematography looks alright, but the camerawork is sloppy, stuffed with awkward angles covering that they filmed the whole thing in a pool.
That is, until the very ending. In the final five to ten minutes of the narrative, 47 Meters Down carries out its single frightening sequence, as well as a pretty significant twist. It’s not that this plot point is particularly stunning, but it stands out as the only interesting thing that the movie does. Do these five minutes make up for the other 85 minutes of this abysmal movie? No, but saving the best for last might make you feel a little less awful as you leave the theatre. However, for me, this conclusion was too little, too late.