I’m disappointed that the sequel to “47 Meters Down,” the surprisingly good 2017 shark thriller that for some reason stars “This Is Us’ ” Mandy Moore, isn’t titled “48 Meters Down.” Title choice notwithstanding, “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” (2019) – now on Amazon Prime — is indeed a step down from the original. But it’s hard to hate the film even though it’s not all that scary. Returning director and co-writer Johannes Roberts knows how to do shark-based scuba-diving thrills, and – given the confines of the subgenre – this entry is reasonably distanced from the first.
In a story unrelated to the fatalistic and truly scary original, “Uncaged” finds four teenagers from an English-speaking school in Mexico making an unapproved dive into a Mayan underwater city along the coast. A big appeal is seeing creepy artifacts such as statues and sacrificial altars in an unnatural, submerged setting.
Main character Mia (Sophie Nélisse) has one of those shallow, arguably outdated arcs wherein she’s picked on in school – particularly by Brec Bassinger’s Catherine — but then proves herself in a survival situation. Nelisse has a Dakota Johnson girl-next-door quality that comes through even from behind her breathing mask, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see her in bigger films.
It’s nice to see “Northern Exposure’s” John Corbett as Mia’s dad, Grant, who leads the archeological expedition. Corinne Fox is Mia’s step-sister who is caught between supporting her family member and fitting in with the cool kids. Two other girls (Sylvester Stallone’s daughter Sistine, and Brianne Tju) round out the quartet and don’t make much of an impression – aside, of course, from being scared when sharks swim past.
“Uncaged” uses forgivable conceits that might not be technologically accurate. Everyone can communicate clearly despite wearing breathing masks. One of Grant’s employees listens to music while working underwater.
The underwater photography and shark effects are top-shelf. This is far above the level of the “Jaws” sequels. But in “Uncaged,” unfortunately, there isn’t much real terror – similar to “Jaws” 3 and 4 – and the teen interplay falls short of “Jaws 2.” If that sequel has “American Graffiti” vibes, this one leans toward Disney Channel vibes.
The 90-minute “Uncaged” has brisk, broad thrills more so than scary scenarios where you wonder what you’d do in that situation; it’s simply a matter of getting through the caves to the surface before their air tanks run out. A highlight is a vicious current – imagine a toilet flushing on a large scale – that’s illustrated for viewers like an underwater wind. I also like the sequence where the group emerges to the surface, but the water hole is surrounded by sheer cliffs. We also get little terrors like small air pockets, which allow divers to breathe, but which are no fun if you’re claustrophobic.
I dig the climax of “Uncaged,” which dispenses with fatalism and turns the wallflower into an action hero. It might’ve been neat to get school bully Catherine more involved in some shark action and to go even crazier with this closing set-piece. But it’s still a smile-worthy conclusion as Roberts finally gives the girls – and viewers – a break.