Going into the screening, as normal I’d done my best to avoid other writer’s impressions about the film, but I couldn’t help but notice various headlines equating 47 Meters Down 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 just isn’t in the same league as Jaws.
As an avid SCUBA diver, I knew from the trailers that the story was likely to play fast and loose with what would actually happen with one non-diver and one casual diver having an uncontrolled plunge to 155′. So let’s just stick with the story and I’ll put in my dive complaints later.
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 some newfound friends to a somewhat questionable-quality dive boat that will take them out for a cage dive so that they can be in the open ocean with sharks at point blank range.
This is all good and 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. After all, when you pay rock bottom, you will tend to get what you pay for. Their friends 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 fine. When they start to panic a bit, the boat captain played by Matthew Modine agrees to bring them up early, and 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. Now they’re trapped, with part of the cage door jammed by some of the debris, and some overly eager sharks nearby and just waiting for a chance. In addition, their air is far from infinite, each only carrying a single tank, and facing the prospect of having to rise to the surface with decompression stops to avoid potentially lethal nitrogen bubbles from forming by coming back to the surface too quickly.
So that’s the gist, and when I’d first seen the trailer, I was really excited. I love shark films, even though there’s so few good ones out there. Sure, I love the Sharknado films, but that’s because there’s utterly no pretense there of anything but being entirely silly fun. However here they through around some banter and try to make it sound like it’s all a plausible scenario, and that just makes all the mistakes feel all the more glaring.
Sure, 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 more likely ruptured eardums – and almost certainly in Lisa’s case since she’s not a diver at all. Both women panic at various points, and at that depth they would burn through their supplies in little time.
Air does become an issue and drives some of the tension, but not in the way that it would in reality. The sharks only put in a few token appearances, but since the water visibility is very poor in the film (not to mention that at the depth they’re at, it’s pretty dark to begin with), so they’re an ever-present menace even when their CGI selves aren’t on-screen.
The film tries, and the actors try, but there’s really little real tension. There’s a twist towards the end that deserves a nod, though from dialogue just prior, it kind of makes 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 (never watch Open Water 2 as it’s positively horrid). Last year’s The Shallows is probably on-par with 47 quality wise, but Shallows had a better performance from Blake Lively.
In the end, any diver assuming they made that crash and survived the initial fall, as soon as they came to would either do a slow rotating ascent, or if it was simply the last resort, filling the BC with air, and becoming a rocket to the surface.
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