I´d better admit right from the get go that for about eleven years I had a recurring dream where I was being eaten alive by a shark. Sometimes this varied to an alligator but the upshot is that I get very worked up about big water-based monsters trying to eat people. I recently came back from my honeymoon in New Orleans with the even more fabulous than ever May and whilst I was out there, for a brief moment, I thought not only were my dreams coming true (ie marrying May) but that my nightmares were to. You see we went on a boat trip down the bayou and I was, for one brief moment, convinced I was going to be eaten by a local ´gator. As it turned out it was too late in the year for most Alligator´s who had given up and gone into hibernation. The only ones we saw would have barely made a couple of handbags let alone be large enough to fit a grown man like myself inside their bellies.
Anyway, what I am saying is that I am the perfect audience for shark/alligator/piranha* movies so I was well up for a bit of underwater monster munching. Unfortunately 47 Meters Down is not well up for delivering the thrills I was looking for. For a while it looked like it could but then someone clearly decided that things were going too well so thought ¨fuck it, lets just ruin this shark flick!¨ and lobbed a head-slappingly awful ending onto it.
Okay let´s mix up our large animals and get the elephant in the room out of the way. I admire anyone who wants to make a stab at a decent shark movie because Jaws is a thing that happened. That movie, apart from creating the modern blockbuster, apart from being an incredible bit of entertainment and apart from being a showcase to three of the greatest male performances inside a small boat, is also the be all and all in shark movies. I know there was a glut of rip-offs following its success (with everything from killer whales to octopuses to barracudas for all that is holy) but really why did they bother? (okay for the money). Jaws was perfect as it was, everything else was always going to be inferior.
Even forty odd years later Jaws is still the number one big water monster movie, so if you want to do another one you better do something different.
So that is exactly what writer/director Johannes Roberts has done. We follow two sisters (Mandy Moore and Claire Holt) on their trip down Mexico way where they end up in a shark cage to get a few thrills from seeing our razor toothed friends close up. Things go horribly wrong when the cable holding their cage snaps and they plummet a title-making 47 Meters Down to the bottom of the ocean. Here they are running out of air and surrounded by sharks. Its a great premise if handled well. And handled well it is. Roberts wisely keeps the action firmly with the two girls, any attempt by the boating crew to rescue them is kept agonisingly vague and distant. The upshot of this is that despite the vastness of the sea we as an audience feel incredibly claustrophobic – the action is kept close up and is clearly shot under water adding to the authenticity. Although the proceeding events are small – trying to contact the surface, getting fresh air – we are in such a macrocosm of two people trying to survive that every action is incredibly intense.
It helps that the two girls are very likeable. Moore in particular excels at coming across as very, very frightened of the situation she is in (and that´s before she even puts her wet suit on) and as she gets more and more fearful so do we. It also helps that they are suited up with very large face masks so we can see their faces properly. If they had been wearing the classic goggles and mouth piece most divers wear we wouldn´t have been able to see the fear in their eyes, let alone be able to say anything.
47 Meters Down, up to a point, is very tightly made. The sharks are kept to a minimum although their presence is always felt out in the darkness. When they do show up they look great and more realistic than say last years The Shallows, certainly more realistic than Bruce from Jaws, but I guess that´s a given. Keeping the action deep under water and close to the actors adds to the danger and threat and kept me on the edge of my seat. In fact I was just thinking that this might be a great shark movie when it all went horribly, horribly wrong…
Look, I´m not the film maker here. I didn´t write the story or get out to Mexico (or a swimming pool or whatever) to shoot the damn thing. But surely, SURELY, someone must have looked at the ending and gone – guys what are you doing??!!?
Film making is a funny old game. I was working on a feature myself a few years ago and the script (by someone else) was by and large a pretty fine piece of work. However the ending was dreadful to the point of being almost none existent. Try as I might I could not get anyone to see this. They were all so caught up in how to make the film that they didn´t stop to think about whether what they were making was any good.
Is this what happened here? I don´t know**, but I went from ¨Yes!!¨ to literally chucking one of my new Christmas slippers at the screen. Skip the next paragraph if you don´t want to know what happens because I am gonna rant and rave like a loon and spoilers be damned.
So (last SPOLIER chance)… Mandy Moore manages to rescue her sister from the clutches of doom and swim the pair of them up to the surface. It is a nail-biting moment as they surface and are tantalisingly close to the boat when more sharks attack. Fortunately by this point Moore is in big sister protection mode and gouges the main shark´s eyeball out. Its a great, but small, victory. Back on the boat everything seems just fine, I mean there´s a lot of blood but it looks like our girls will survive… but then Moore starts tripping out and we realise she hasn´t done anything for the last half hour but is in fact still at the bottom of the ocean. She´s been hallucinating the whole rescue. Essentially it was all a dream. Its the hokiest load of old shit there is in the story telling cliché bible. So this means what? The last half hour was a dream so it was basically a waste of time? A waste of time for the audience certainly. Sure, some might say that its not just an only-a-dream moment it was a rug pull for the viewer, so it was good after all. Okay, maybe but this has already been done exactly the same in the far superior The Descent and that was pretty annoying too. Why Roberts? Why did you do this? Oh well…
Anyway, there you go. I guess you could stop the film at about 85 minutes in and it would be perfectly fine, good even. Or you could just not bother 47 Meters Down at all and just watch Jaws again. Good idea I reckon.
*I´ve never actually had a piranha based nightmare but I didn´t want to leave the poor little fellas out. They have a hard enough time as it is, what with all those poor teeth and dreadful dental insurance.
** I´ve just read an interview with the director. Apparently he had to fight for that ending. So there were people saying ¨hey Roberts, maybe we could do something a bit better¨ and he must have been ¨no! I have a vision. I have put my heart and soul into this and now I must burn it to the ground!¨