Johannes Roberts’ sequel to 2017’s stripped-down aquatic thriller is packed to the gills with sharktastic mayhem.
2017’s nightmarish shark survival thriller 47 Meters Down was a welcome variation on a well-worn subgenre — a low budget sleeper where two sisters spent most of the runtime fending off multiple sharks from the relative creature comforts of a diving cage. But even as the cage underlined the compact nature and the tricky ways that the film elongated its svelte runtime, it was director Johannes Roberts who made the experience truly memorable, if not always totally plausible. If nothing else, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged is another showcase for Roberts’ considerable skills as a director. And even as he still needs to work on creating more engaging victims, he knows exactly what to do once all hell breaks loose.
47 Meters Down: Uncaged, unfortunately, continues this pattern as the character material ranges from unconvincing to distractingly awful, though it’s mercifully short on illustrating these dynamics beyond archetypes and some exposition about a lost underwater Mayan city. But like a shark, Roberts is always moving forward, as shown in a nifty intro that tours that aforementioned Mayan city before evocatively funneling out into a pool where a hapless teen plunges into the water in slow motion. It’s a neat exhibition of Roberts’ approach towards his human characters, who are less people than finely composed lambs trying to avoid slaughter.
This pool is at Modine International School for Girls, where Mia (Sophie Nélisse) is outcasted because…well, it’s not really clear why other than some vague dialogue from her stepsister, Sasha (Corinne Foxx) who calls her weird. A recent transplant to Yucatán, Mexico with her dad, Grant (John Corbett), these details are less germane to the plot than an excuse for initial sisterly conflict conducive to getting these two young women and Sasha’s two besties, Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Stallone) trapped in shark-infested waters.
The characters may be thinly sliced archetypes (Nicole’s impulsive nature is infuriating within minutes in the water), but the film is smart enough to know that it’s less about their sense of character than their knowledge in the water – and thankfully, all of them have extensive personal experience with diving suits. That doesn’t quite give them an automatic fin up when they’re face to face with a dead-eyed, weathered Great White, but it firmly separates the film from its predecessor to the point where it’s basically only a sequel in name.
Instead, these four women are surprisingly smart about checking their equipment and even more strangely historically curious than one would expect for a quartet of teenagers. They’re also exceptionally dumb in other scenarios, but that’s to be expected with the territory.
Roberts and screenwriter Ernest Riera are cruel masterminds in escalating the situation, as the alabaster Great White nips at their toes in the pitch dark or swims lazily right over their heads. But it’s the combination of Mark Silk’s violently abstract cinematography, tomandandy’s excellent squealing organ score, and the visual effects team led by David Sadler-Coppard who are the real stars — turning these underground ruins into a creepy haunted house for anyone unlucky enough to swim in these tunnels.
Even as [Roberts] still needs to work on creating more engaging victims, he knows exactly what to do once all hell breaks loose.
Within seconds of everything going belly up, the previously luminescent passageways are clouded up with bubbles, dust, and slanted streaks of light. And this is when the film is truly in its groove. The girls may be panicking as their air starts to deplete and they’re in a cat and mouse chase, but the camera is comparatively sedate, prepared to take in every detail only as it falls in range of the character’s lights. When death happens, it’s a blur only contextualized through the particles and splattering light on statues. And as The Carpenters’ immortal horror needle drop, “It’s Only Just Begun” reverberates through the walls, it feels like the film is fully embracing its slasher spirit.
Not all of it works. There’s one or two too many jump scares, and perhaps to compensate for the absurdity of the last film’s climax, this film’s final coup de grace is both incredibly operatic and stupid at the same time. But over and over, they find new ways to terrorize the humans whether it’s through a harrowing sequence with a flashing diver locator, relentless whirlpools, or an extended sequence involving a pulley. And honestly, what more can you ask for with a shark movie?
47 Meters Down: Uncaged flaps its fins and bites into theaters this weekend.