Jaws” (1975) invented the killer-shark subgenre of horror, but it didn’t invent sharks. As such, plenty of movies through the years have been spiritual sequels to “Jaws,” and most of them have been much better than “Jaws 3” and “Jaws: The Revenge.” “47 Meters Down,” which snuck in and out of theaters in June and is now available via streaming and Redbox, is the latest.
Although it borrows one specific scare from “Jaws 3,” this taut thriller has a simple story and aims for realism and viewer intimacy with the two sisters who are in a shark cage that has come unmoored and sunk to the ocean floor. It starts off rather silly, as we’re led to believe that an offscreen guy dumped Mandy Moore (as Lisa) and she is wallowing on this Mexican vacation with her younger sister. Kate is played by Claire Holt, who was a mermaid in “H2O: Just Add Water.” That’s no help here, as Kate is a mere human – although she does have slightly more scuba-diving experience than Lisa.
The actresses seem like sisters and do a good job portraying their fear and attempts to encourage one another during the terror. While “47 Meters Down” doesn’t do any favors for those who believe shark terror has been blown out of proportion by movies, writers Johannes Roberts (who also directed) and Ernest Riera do an admirable job of showing the real issues that can arise from this situation: Lisa and Kate have limited air in their tanks, they can’t rise quickly or they’ll get the bends, and they are in shark-infested waters.
Their best option may be to wait in the cage – but they don’t know how trustworthy their rescuers are. I thought perhaps Roberts and Riera would give us some additional intrigue in the vein of an old Peter Benchley novel – maybe something like “The Deep” — but they keep the action underwater. We get no escape from shark horror to mundane human scheming.
Cinematographer Mark Silk gives us clear pictures of the women’s situation, yet also keeps the waters murky enough so we imagine a shark lurking in the gloom. The movie is a beautiful dark blue, punctuated by flashlights and flares. While some horror films go too far with the notion that “What you don’t see is scarier,” in “47 Meters Down” the paranoia of Lisa and Kate jibes with their near-helpless situation.
When we do see sharks, they are completely believable, making this the latest movie that affirms my theory that 2017 is the year that leaves not-quite-right CGI in the dust. For better or worse, “47 Meters Down” stops short of shock moments, even more so than respectable classics like “Jaws.” When Lisa swims over to an unattended flashlight, of course it’s going to be held by a dismembered hand, right? In this film, maybe not.
“47 Meters Down” isn’t an original enough concept to make it an easy pitch (indeed, the previews for “Open Water 3” on this very Blu-ray disc show divers descending in a shark cage), but it also reminds us that horror movies don’t always need that extra hook: They can just bring you into the increasingly scary situation and keep you there for 90 minutes.