Going into the screening, I’d done my best to avoid other picking up too much on other writer’s impressions about 47 Meters Down, but I couldn’t help but notice various headlines equating it to Steven Spielberg’s classic film Jaws. After having seen the latest installment in the humans-as-sharkbait genre of films, I am going to have to find some of those writers and ask them which film they actually saw, because 47 Meters Down isn’t even on a level Sharknado, let along with Jaws.
The story revolves around two sisters, Lisa (played by Mandy Moore) and Kate (played by Claire Holt). They’ve gone to Mexico for a vacation and wind up being taken by their newfound friends (Louis and Javier), whom they just met in a bar to a somewhat questionable-quality dive boat that will ferry them out for a cage dive so that they can experience the thrill of being in the open ocean with sharks at point blank range.
Everything seems like it’s going along well, and while the boat is a bit on the battered and old side, it’s not unlike any number of boats you might find in any region where tourism diving is popular. The boat and its crew showcases the adage: when you pay rock bottom, you will tend to get what you pay for. Louis and Javier go into the cage first and have their hour in the water at the expected 5 meters (16 feet) and get to watch a pair of great whites and generally have a dandy time.
Now it’s the women’s turn, and they go down and again, everything starts off just as smoothly. When the sharks begin to act more aggressively, Lisa and Kate start to get worried and the boat captain played by Matthew Modine agrees to bring them up early. That’s when things start to go very wrong. First the winch starts to buckle, and then entirely separates from the ship – plunging the steel cage down to the ocean floor 47 meters down. They’re trapped, and there are some overly eager sharks nearby and just waiting for a chance. In addition, their air supply is far from infinite, with each only carrying a single tank. They also realize that they will face the prospect of having to rise to the surface with decompression stops to avoid potentially lethal nitrogen bubbles from forming in their blood by coming back to the surface too quickly.
The film tries, and the actors try, but there’s really very little real tension. There’s a twist towards the end that deserves a nod, though even in that case it’s telegraphed loudly enough to make it an easy guess. If you want a brilliant version of a similar “tourists in the ocean and things go bad“, watch 2003’s Open Water. Last year’s The Shallows is probably on-par with 47 quality wise, but Shallows had a better performance from Blake Lively.
Many shark films (and most films involving underwater swimming) take some rather extensive liberties with various aspects of diving. 47 Meters tosses around enough technical banter to make it sound like it’s all a plausible scenario, and that just makes all the mistakes feel all the more glaring.
While many dive boats might go a bit loose with requiring a dive certification when doing a shallow dive, they would never do it without sending along the boat’s divemaster just to keep an eye on them and help them along. People who are experienced divers often have to work on normalizing their pressure on the way down to any substantial depth, and even then, it’s generally a casual descent. Doing an elevator-speed descent to 150 feet or more is going to at the least be a painful experience, and almost certainly ruptured eardrums. Both women panic at various points, and at that depth they would burn through their air supply under 15 minutes.
Between a general lack of any reality of what their situation might be after their rapid descent, and the film’s attempt to at the same time present a realistic feel winds up causing a large amount of discordance. Audiences are willing to suspend belief, but when a director puts up a big sign that says, “this could really happen!” it’d better really be able to happen.
At least there’s always Sharknado 5: Global Swarming to look forward to in a few months.
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