Tuesday, June 27, 2017

47 Meters Down

47 METERS DOWN (Johannes Roberts, 2017)

While vacationing in Mexico in 47 METERS DOWN, sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) decide to do something a bit more daring. Lisa is feeling down after breaking up with her boyfriend, who thought she could be boring. Kate suggests they be more adventurous, in part to prove him wrong. They go out and meet some guys who tell them about a captain who can have them cage dive with sharks for a bargain.

Lisa is hesitant but grudgingly agrees, although she starts to balk when seeing the weathered boat. Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine) and the guys assure them that everything will be fine. There’s still reason to be cautious, though, as the guys on the boat chum the water, which is illegal where they are. Lisa lies about knowing how to use the diving equipment, but as there’s a wink-wink, nudge-nudge quality to this whole arrangement, they get into the cage and go below to see the sharks up close. Lisa and Kate are exhilarated until the rusty winch snaps and drops them 47 meters down to the ocean floor.

47 METERS DOWN is marred by dialogue that is as bad as any that might be part of a commercial film financed with a respectable budget and featuring experienced professionals. The lines delivered above water aren’t well-written, but the clunky chatter doesn’t stand out as being especially bad, just purely functional. Maybe it’s the isolation that makes what gets uttered while the characters are in the ocean sound so stiff. As most of the film takes place underwater with masks somewhat obscuring the two main actresses’ faces, they must say one another’s names an uncommon number of times to distinguish who is talking. The low caliber of their dialogue is indicative of Moore and Holt being in a looping session in which they are instructed to watch the footage and say the first thing that comes to mind.

Despite the leaden quality of the verbal exchanges, 47 METERS DOWN is quite effective as a B-grade suspense film. The limited view in the murky water sustains the tension of knowing a threat is out there and can strike quickly. It’s even more unnerving when Lisa swims far enough away for possible help and then loses her bearings when trying to return to the relative safety of the cage. The sound of the distressed women’s rapid and labored breathing doesn’t trigger a sympathetic reaction but transmits the extreme anxiety. The most mundane actions are coded as unrelentingly tense either because of the danger lurking around them or the diminishing capacity of their air tanks.

47 METERS DOWN likely benefits from being seen in a theater because having the big screen overwhelm you makes the experience feel more direct, as if you are also in peril with the women in the water. The screenplay by director Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera isn’t packed with surprises but bad choices. Feeling more actively involved as an audience member makes it easier to forgive the rash and foolish decisions Lisa and Kate tend to opt for. The pressure-filled situation would naturally lead to reacting rather than contemplation, even if more of the latter is advisable at first. The script could telegraph less of what’s to come--chances are that any seemingly inconsequential piece of information will enter into play--but for all of its faults, 47 METERS DOWN is ruthlessly potent at instilling fear and panic.

Grade: B

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