Thrillers like this have their own modus operandi, and audiences expect them to follow a very specific formula. We’re introduced to a hero, a danger presents itself, the hero must fight, or chase, or be chased by the danger, and finally the hero must emerge victorious or, alternatively, be swallowed up by the darkness in some grand tragic manner. We hope that within this framework, filmmakers will find new ways of presenting these stories or express some visual brilliance and dazzle viewers with the ability to effectively tell a basic tale in an interesting way. But sometimes it’s enough that the formula is followed to the letter, with no digressions or attempts at greatness. Sometimes it’s enough to watch young people be attacked by sharks.
47 Meters Down won’t blow your mind. What it does is deliver a few decent jump-scares, mostly involving enormous sharks appearing from out of nowhere. And as a showcase for these two characters in one confined location, it works remarkably well. The filmmakers even work in a device that allows them to get weird for a brief, wonderful moment, though if you’ve seen other films before (or simply pay attention to the film’s own dialogue) you’ll have guessed at the true nature of that weirdness about 20 minutes early. And while it never quite gets strange enough for my taste, it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is. It’s the cinematic version of the kiddie roller coaster at an amusement park. Again, I’m not complaining.
The story is simple. Two sisters (Mandy Moore and Claire Holt) go on vacation to Mexico, where they meet two guys. Dancing, drinks and some very PG-13 smooching follow, and the next morning they all meet to jump into a shallow depth cage to get some up-close face time with the sharks just off the coast. Inevitably, things go wrong, and the sisters are sent plummeting, yep, 47 meters down to the ocean’s floor. With their oxygen running low, panic setting in and new dilemmas, injuries and aggressive sea life popping up every few minutes, there’s more than enough here to keep interest up and tension appropriately high.
Yes, it’s predictable. The characters don’t exactly grow or learn anything new about themselves. And it suffers from one of my biggest pet peeves, in that the film ends about two minutes later than it should (merciful, though, in an age where most summer movies have, on average, at least 20 extraneous minutes floating around). The shark effects range from passable to laughable, sometimes within a single scene. But you didn’t come here for realism. You came to see these two freak out and get hassled by sharks.
On a side note, this feature was rescued from straight-to-VOD purgatory at the last minute and was luckily given a small theatrical release. You often hear the joke about movies being destined for the $5 bin. But if you’ve ever dug through those bins, you know that once in awhile you find some little gems in there.