Sunday, 10 December 2017

Movie Review: 47 Meters Down (2017)



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The plot: Sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt), while on holiday in Mexico, are invited by two locals to go shark cage diving. They agree and head down in the cage, but they soon find themselves in trouble when the winch holding up the cage breaks, sending them plunging 47 metres underwater. With only a limited supply of oxygen and many sharks swimming nearby, Lisa and Kate have to find a way to contact their boat and get back to the surface.





Well… this cast sucks. There’s really no other way to put it. Chris J. Johnson and Yani Gellman as the locals and Matthew Modine as the boat captain are bland and occasionally speaking some unpleasant dialogue, but that’s not the issue. After all, we don’t really see that much of them in this film, so them being unengaging isn’t so bad as to wreck the whole production. Instead, that dubious honour has been left to Moore and Holt as our leads, who have to keep the audience’s attention centred for the majority of the film. Well, aside from playing rather asinine characters (Lisa’s motivation for getting into the cage in the first place is about as shallow as it gets), never once do they sell the terrifying situation they’re in. They end up leaning on the dialogue to illustrate their situation for them, rather than emoting it, and the fact that they are in a life-or-death situation never really registers.

That might have something to do with the film’s visuals, or rather lack of visuals since you can barely see anything. Not that I’m expecting the ocean floor to be brightly lit or anything, but this is where the needs of the story and the needs of the frame end up clashing. It does make sense that not much is visible and that lack of knowledge about what may be swimming just outside the cage could be a great source of tension. Unfortunately, that’s not the effect we get. What we do get is something similar to looking at the film through an empty toilet paper roll; this is not how fear of the unknown works. Of course, once we do see the predatory threats in the water, that approach starts to make sense. After all, with effects this cheap and this lacking in tangible threat, the idea of them ends up being scarier than the flesh-and-blood reality. Sure, the bleeding effects are decent and you’ll likely get a wince or two out of them… but the film really seems to banking on those effects to do a lot more than they ultimately can. The opening credits are set against a glass of red wine spilling into a pool… get it? Because it looks like blood? Scared yet? Well I bloody well hope so, because that’s about as tense as this gets.

This really sucks because the core concept on its own? It’s bursting with spine-chilling potential. Being stuck in a confined space, underwater with limited oxygen, with who knows how many sharks swimming around; again, the idea of that happening is legit scary. Not only that, the script also includes nitrogen nacrosis, a state of hallucination brought on by nitrogen bubbles in the bloodstream as a result of deep-sea diving. We have a setting built on fear of what may be right next to you in the deep and a grounded possibility for the mind to play tricks and make things even worse. However, as good as this sounds, what we get strikes out in embarrassing fashion with material practically gift-wrapped for the people involved.

This is where the combination of the visual approach and the acting starts to reveal the big nail-in-the-coffin problem with this film: We don’t care. Moore and Holt treat this life-or-death situation with about as much seriousness as the audience, the people who in no way can be threatened by what is on screen, and they respond to bodily harm like it’s a rather nasty papercut. Just the thought of saltwater touching an open wound is enough to get some people on edge, and yet these people who apparently are having it happen to them for real barely react to it. There’s all of one effective moment, one that comes right at the end and shows the film starting to acknowledge what it can do with its initial ideas. Of course, once we get to that point, we’ve already sat through over an hour of lame and by the time it registers as something scary, the film’s already over.

All in all, this is basically the anti-Shallows in terms of efficacy with making the open shark-infested ocean seem scary. The visuals take the idea of how dark the ocean depths can be and takes it so far that you can barely tell what’s going on, the writing ends up mostly discarding its incredibly ripe concept in favour of incredibly mediocre scares, and the abysmal acting, particularly from Mandy Moore, never makes it apparent that these characters care about their predicament. And as a result, we don’t either. This film already has a sequel in the works, helmed by the same director… really? Even by the standards of kitschy shark films, there is nothing here that should warrant a continuation. As bad as Sharknado is, at least those films have enough sense to be engaging through sheer insanity; this can’t even get that far.

It’s worse than Middle School: The Worst Years Of My Life, which was certainly annoying but it at least had enough energy in it to be annoying in the first place. That, and it had some sequences that were legitimately entertaining. However, as completely unengaging as this is, that’s ultimately all it is: Something that I’ll likely forget before the month is even out. Daddy’s Home 2, on the other hand, is annoying and hateful in a way that the audience is supposed to be okay with. This is weak but let’s not kid ourselves: Boring audiences to death isn’t the worst thing a film can do.

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