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FILM REVIEW: 47 METERS DOWN Dives Deep Into Your Fears

FILM REVIEW: 47 METERS DOWN Dives Deep Into Your Fears

In modern shark horror movies, there really are only two questions that the audience needs answered: is the movie genuinely scary and is it not ridiculously over the top? For upcoming indie release 47 Meters Down, it turns out, the answer to the former is yes, and the answer to the latter is mostly yes as well. Overall a solid combination of thrills and jumps, the movie is sure to please lovers of this type of film without profoundly offending skeptics of what is surely an overdone genre.

The premise for 47 Meters Down is that sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt, from TV’s The Vampire Diaries) are on vacation in Mexico, one of them texting longingly back home because of emotional issues she has left behind, and they both are seeking adventure.

That setup fails to distinguish this movie from last year’s decent The Shallows, the Blake Lively film. And things get worse before they get better. The thin reed on which the plot rests to explain the sisters’ foray into shark-infested waters is that Lisa, dumped by her boyfriend for being boring, is seeking to prove him wrong. Screenwriters for this type of story too often indulge their need to justify to viewers placing the characters in peril. But the target demographic is not looking for excuses—they’re looking to jump out of their seats.

One does wonder, of course, what justification a silly Hollywood screenwriter would give terrified moviegoers such as myself for attending these films. Too scared to engage in the real thing, I suppose, would be mine.

But 47 Meters Down improves markedly when the two “gringas” are put into the ocean and the twist the audience expects to happen does. A deft combination of claustrophobia, fear of asphyxiation, fear of the dark, not to mention, of course, the big eleph—er, sharks in the room, all blend together to produce a genuinely fresh set of horrors. In the depths of the studio’s imagination lies a deathly and new parade of nightmares.

The film is directed by the largely unknown British helmer Johannes Robert, whose specialization in the horror genre shines through this deep ocean in droves. He knows how to use close-ups, tracking shots, and forward screen voids dexterously to make you jump out of your seat. Some of the frights you see coming, while other moments leave you waiting, and others genuinely surprise you. And, as per the second important lemma of these films, he resists going over the top both in shocks but also in the predators’ abilities. Sharks that can jump dozens of feet out of the water, for example, have become a bête-noir of the genre, which he thankfully avoids in this film.

That is all to say that 47 Meters Down is a pretty decent flick, for a movie that struggles so mightily in some aspects—they could not even cast Hispanic actors to play some of the Mexican roles, there are unnecessary heart-to-hearts, and the entire “47 meters down” gimmick gets old quickly enough that the doomed heroines are forced to repeat the same boneheaded moves one too many annoying times. But you sort of know to expect such slips and stumbles from a shark attack film. You can forgive them if the peccadillos are harmless enough and the thrills genuine enough, both of which 47 Meters Down achieves.

It has been a long and unbending road since that one infamous Amityville great white made theater audiences the world over terrified to go back into the water. The films that have since littered the landscape have spanned the depths of the ocean from atrocious to worthy of their creator. 47 Meters Down is the exact opposite of atrocious (it’s “admirable,” look it up), even if it has nothing to do with the mastery of Spielberg’s classic. But it will make you afraid of the ocean all over again, and succeed in taking that fear to a whole new depth.

Perhaps the genre is ready to dip its toes back in the water after all.

Grade: B

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About The Author

J. Don Birnam

J. Don Birnam, the pseudonym of a New York City-based writer, is a voting member of the New York Film Critics Online and has been a movie lover since he saw the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in theaters at a tender age. JDB has been a devoted student of American film history every since. His favorite films range from Back to the Future to West Side Story, depending on the time of day, and has a mildly unhealthy obsessions with the Academy Awards. Any similarity with the slightly unstable writer in the seminal 1944 film 'The Lost Weekend' is pure coincidence

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