Second Sight: The Atmosphere Of 47 Meters Down

There's never been a shark film that has come close to the greatness of Steven Spielberg's timeless thriller, Jaws. Most entries into the genre are too concerned with inventive and shocking kills or more regrettably, ignore the plethora of possibilities of man being out of his element, in an environment they cannot control dominated by the apex predator. Johannes Roberts’ 47 Meters Down approaches the tired subject matter with an unbelievably constructed universe of terror beneath the waves. An underwater chamber piece of hysterics, Meters does a lot with what it has, using the environment as the antagonist, rather than the silent predators that loom over its heroines. 

Two sisters go cage diving off the coast of Mexico. The cage cable snaps, plunging the women to the bottom of the ocean, leaving them cut off from their ship with dwindling amounts of oxygen while hungry sharks glide through the darkness, waiting for their opportunity to feast. There's the requisite amount of setup, but it, along with everything else not taking place in the water, is completely forgettable. Filmed at the Underwater Studio in Essex, the bulk of the story focuses on the sisters’ struggle to survive. Clair Holt and Mandy Moore star, delivering the kind of performances you would expect in a film like this, however, beyond the trappings lays a unique sense of dread. The bottom of the ocean is devoid of wildlife (of the non-finned variety) and decorated with neon flora whose synthetic appearance manages to enhance to the mood, keeping the viewer focused on the sisters awaiting the next encounter with the sharks. 

Mark Silk manages to use very little to maximum effect with his cinematography. 47 Meters works best when the sharks are off screen, with the camera following panicked divers as they scrounge for supplies on the ocean floor. Danger is everywhere and the actions ebbs from one caustic sequence to another, with nonchalant emotional scenes in between that only enrich the faux-ambiance with their strained delivery. Both actresses work well with what they have, presenting characters who are both courageously resourceful and emotionally traumatized. While some of the risks taken exist purely to advance the slim 85 minute running time, the sisters are constantly fighting for their lives, despite the odds. Yes, the rules of reality are bent and even broken, however, the isolation of the cage and the murky, death filled waters beyond create a microcosm of bleak, almost mystical environs that manage to enthrall for the duration. 

Filmed on a budget of five million, and originally named In the Deep, 47 Meters Down has grossed 48 million in theaters thus far. One of the many weaknesses is the final act, which many consider to be cheating, however, when approached from a psychological viewpoint, rather than a horror one, its presence makes sense. If there is anything to lament, it is the lack of practical effects for the sharks, however, they are thankfully left off screen whenever possible, keeping the sisters in total focus and this is why 47 Meters Down is one of the better offerings in the genre. Spielberg's masterpiece runs on the idea that the viewer's mind is far, far scarier than anything the director could show them. Robert's film tries to emulate this idea through a single location horror story that promises death, and yet rarely delivers the goods, drawing out the tension for as long as possible. 

Oh No! You're Trapped! Don't worry, I'll get you out! 
In theaters now, 47 Meters Down is a flawed, but admirable entry in the shark film genre. Physics and science are abandoned in favor of a submerged siege story that never fully crosses the line between psychological terror and physical violence. In fact, those looking for memorable kill sequences will find themselves disappointed, as Roberts is more interested in exploring themes of isolation and panic. The result is a mixed bag of atmospheric tension that sustains enough pressure throughout to make the experience memorable.

-Kyle Jonathan