Two years ago genre fans watched a couple of girls climb into a shark cage and unexpectedly descend 47 Meters Down when the cable broke and the cage dropped to the ocean floor. As their air supply dwindled the girls had to face their fears, and the sharks they had been watching, to try and survive. It wasn’t a great movie, but it brought in enough coin ($43 million worldwide at the box office on a $5.5 million budget according to IMDB.com) for Entertainment Studios to let director Johannes Roberts make a sequel.
Only “sequel” isn’t quite the right word to use considering 47 Meters Down: Uncaged has virtually no connection to the first movie beyond setting the depth at which the action takes place, and even that’s questionable since nobody actually measures anything in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged. There are other differences, too, besides their not being any cage in the sequel, like having four girls acting like shark bait instead of two and replacing the traditional girl-eating great white sharks with some gnarly looking blind albino girl-eating sharks who float across the screen like a gnarly looking blind albino girl-eating shark balloon.
So instead of a sequel, let’s just say that Johannes Roberts has made a second shark movie…and that he might have wanted to stop at one.
47 Meters Down: Uncaged beings with a scene at a snobby prep school where a group of cardboard mean-girls has just pushed the smart but unpopular Mia (Sophie Nélisse) into the school pool, right in front of Mia’s totally unhelpful sister Sasha (Corinne Foxx, Jamie’s daughter). The sisterly bickering comes to a head over dinner, where dad comes up with a plan for them to bond by taking a glass-bottom shark watching excursion together, despite Sasha’s plans to spend the day with her friends, Nicole (Sistine Rose Stallone, Sly’s daughter) and Alexa (Brianne Tju).
Yawn. Even the cast must have known it was all exposition given the level of commitment they give to the family scenes, but it thankfully doesn’t take too long before Mia and Sasha ditch dad’s plan to join Nicole and Alexa on a real adventure. As we learned in the dinner exposition, dad is an underwater archaeologist (or something like that) who is mapping an ancient Mayan city that lies inside a flooded cave. So the girls find the site, borrow some of dad’s equipment and, despite having virtually no experience, go on an unsupervised cave dive.
What could possibly go wrong? For the girls, a lot. For the audience, a lot more. Genre fans are generally extremely forgiving when it comes to logic or science in their films: How many times do they willingly watch the bad guy get riddled with bullets, cut to ribbons, poisoned, bludgeoned and burnt to a crisp only to see them get up to kill again in the next scene or the next movie? If it’s exciting enough or scary enough or even funny enough, they will gladly let the logical part of their brains sleep through it. Why spoil the fun?
Unfortunately, the fun of 47 Meters Down: Uncaged comes to a grinding halt soon after the girls swim into the caves because, despite the fact that they are in an underwater cave and only have four flashlights to illuminate their way, the underwater scenes are all lit like they were shot in a big tank on a soundstage. The fact they probably were has nothing to do with it; it looks too fake to be fun. Having the girls chatter away through the intercoms on their scuba helmets only adds to that fake feeling, especially when their idle banter turns to nails-on-a-chalkboard level screams one the shark shows up.
Granted, there will be some audience members who won’t be bothered by the lighting at all, happy to have enough light to see which girl is which since they all sound pretty much alike as they swim around whether it makes sense or not. They’re the lucky ones. There are probably people in the audience who won’t be pulled out of the story by the silly soundtrack Roberts uses to underscore the tension in the movie. For them, the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” is the perfect soundtrack for scaring people. Others may feel differently.
Questionable light sources and cheesy pop music aside the real question to be asked about a shark movie like this is…how are the sharks? Are they Jaws level? Jaws 2? Jaws 3-D? Or are we talking Sharknado? The answer, like a lot of the film, is a mixed message because sometimes the sharks look badass and other times they look just plain bad. And that’s often the same shark in the same scene. There are a couple of kills that are truly scary and others that are truly laughable. There are moments when you fear for the girls to get away and moments when you pray they will get eaten. If Roberts showed a stronger hand on the material (which he co-wrote with Ernst Riera) to either make it darker and scarier (and risk the film’s PG-13 rating) or found an effective way to bring humor to the story, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged might have come together as a unique story instead of feeling like such a mismatched mess.
- John Black, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged