47 Meters Down
2017, PG-13, 89 min. Directed by Johannes Roberts. Starring Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 23, 2017
You’d never guess that Mandy Moore, the actress winning raves for her nuanced performance in this past season’s new hit TV series This Is Us, is the same one co-starring in this summer season’s requisite shark movie 47 Meters Down, in which little more is asked of her than to display panicked desperation and justifiable apprehension. It’s not that she doesn’t deliver the goods, it’s just that so little was asked of her, so devoid of dimension is the character she’s playing. For most of the movie, Moore’s Lisa is trapped with her sister Kate (Holt) in a shark cage which has landed at the bottom of the ocean (you guessed it – 47 meters down) after the winch snaps on the boat that launched them. Panic and desperation are perfectly reasonable responses, especially since we’ve been told that each has only about an hour of oxygen in her tank, and we can observe the salivating sharks circling their human chum. It’s actually a pretty concise little premise as shark movies go, with almost all of the story happening underwater and a plot that has little on its mind other than survival. Still, a little bit of characterization would have been a nice addition.
All wet is the rationale that gets the sisters into deep water in the first place. Lisa and Kate are vacationing in Mexico on a trip that was meant to be enjoyed by Lisa and her boyfriend. However, said beau has dumped Lisa because he thinks she’s “too boring,” so Lisa takes her adventurous sister Kate on the trip instead. Playing to her Achilles heel, Kate entices Lisa to join her in a shark cage to prove her bravery to her ex and because a couple of cute guys have invited them on the expedition. Cut to the rust bucket that’s captained by a dubious character played by Matthew Modine (who hasn’t looked this ambiguous since appearing in Full Metal Jacket with the words “Born to Kill” on his helmet and a peace sign emblazoned on his flak jacket – here’s an actor who knows how to take a small role and run with it). It’d be too harsh to say that anyone getting onto this vessel and entrusting its crew to lower them into shark-infested waters gets what they deserve – but, jeez, screenwriters Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera, please give us a better reason for such dangerous activity than getting back at an ex.
Still, Roberts (The Other Side of the Door), who also directed, maintains the tension as we watch the women strategize despite their fright (although a little less breath wasted – quite literally – on dialogue of the “I’m so scared” variety would have been welcome.) It’s murky down deep, and often the visuals conform to that fact, adding to the seat-of-their-wetsuits perspective. In many ways, 47 Meters Down completes a successful narrative dive, but in other ways it gets stuck in the shallows.