By Kristy Puchko | Film | August 15, 2019 |
By Kristy Puchko | Film | August 15, 2019 |
I really dug 47 Meters Down. The Mandy Moore-fronted horror-thriller hooked me with its story of two sisters in need of some adventure. It lured me in with its premise of a cage-diving trip gone awry in shark-infested waters. The structure of its survival attempts had me gasping, while the waves of shark scares had me screaming.
In 2017, I wrote in my review:
The script by [Johannes] Roberts and Ernest Riera is swift and efficient, setting up enough about the sisters that you like them and understand their whimsy and need for a bit of adventure, even as you shake your head as they shake off red flags. We’re rooted to them, and trapped with them as this thriller drops us to the bottom of the ocean. There, Roberts and Riera ruthlessly unravel one survival plan after another, with each failed attempt tweaking tension for a finale that is nail-biting, scream-jerking, and will leave audiences ragged and breathless.
And so I was practically giddy to see 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, a sequel that reunites screenwriters Riera and Roberts and puts the latter back in the helm. But unlike another recent horror movie that I was deeply anticipating, this wildly mistakes what audiences liked about the source material. This one is trash. And not the good kind.
Before I get to why 47 Meters Down: Uncaged is deeply awful, a bit of background might help explain how it came to be. In 2017, 47 Meters Down was a horror hit no one saw coming. The film was originally produced by Dimension and was headed straight to DVD/VOD in the summer of 2016. Some critics even got review copies. But days before this home entertainment release, Dimension sold the film to Entertainment Studios, which was chiefly known for court shows like Justice with Judge Mablean and The Verdict with Judge Hatchett. Under this new banner, 47 Meters Down became the studio’s first film release the following summer. And with horror-critics raving and audiences hungry for a shark tale, this $5.3 million movie made a whopping $62.6 mil at the box office. With that kind of return on investment, it’s little wonder Entertainment Studios would want to double-dip with a sequel. But considering how 47 Meters Down ends, that’s a bit tricky. Well, that is unless you chuck nearly everything from the first film.
Roberts and Riera reteamed to craft a new story that involves scuba-diving sisters and great whites, but nothing remotely connected to the first film beyond this logline. And every other decision feels motivated to make the film more marketable in the most naked of ways. Sometimes literally.
47 Meters Down: Uncaged centers on misfit Mia (Sophie Nélisse) and her cool step-sister Sasha (Corinne Foxx), who’ve just moved to coastal Yucatan, Mexico, because of their scuba-excavating dad’s job. (John Corbett bringing back his charming dad vibes from To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.) Hoping to help the girls settle in and bond better as sisters, their dad offers them a day out on a glass-bottomed boat ride. Sasha’s new friends, headstrong Alexa (Brianne Tju) and impulsive Nicole (Sistine Rose Stallone), convince the sisters to play hookey and join them on a super-secret cave dive into some flooded Mayan ruins. Hijinks ensue and a cave-in forces the girls into an underwater maze that’s flooded with sharks. And within this, Roberts and Riera make plenty of eyeroll-inducing choices.
You can almost hear the pitch meeting: What’s better than two girls in trouble? FOUR! And let’s make them younger and hotter. Let’s have a scene where they’re just frolicking in bikinis. In slow-motion! People liked The Descent, right? Let’s have them go water-spelunking and meet sharks. But not just great white sharks. They’ll be specially evolved blind sharks that have freaky other powers that make them even more dangerous…somehow. And what if we make the cave Mayan ruins? Then, we can do a bunch of xenophobic close-ups to show native art as creepy! High five, bro!
Where the first film took time to allow audiences to get to know its heroines, the sequel barely feigns an interest in the girls. We know Mia is being bullied because the movie starts with her being shoved into a pool. We know she’s not cool, because Sasha says so—oh! And she wears overalls, presumably, from the She’s All That line of teen outcast wear. But we’re given little sense of her personality. Once they’re on their adventure, Mia’s revealed to be a bit bookish, because she knows things about the Mayans. Not that any of this knowledge has an impact on the movie. As for Sasha, she’s popular and hot and…that’s about it. Alexa and Nicole are just as thinly drawn, which feeds into the shocking tone of this sequel, which is bracingly mean-spirited.
In 47 Meters Down, the focus on Lisa and Kate’s bond made us root for them and their survival. In 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, Mia and Sasha’s bond is chiefly a plot point, and the violence they and their fellow divers face suggests the filmmaker want us to take pleasure in their pain. Every time there’s a moment where it seems escape is at hand, the script snatches it away with grisly relish. There will be blood. There will be a decapitated head (and a lazy Jaws reference). And there will be some snatching from Deep Blue Sea, where a character gives a rallying speech about how they will work together and sur—oh damn there’s a shark attack. But perhaps most grim of all will be the death of a girl who escapes the jaws of a blind-super-shark only to drown. The camera stays with her, lingering on the terror on her face at this realization, then how her faces sinks into a vacant, dead expression.
While the first film put us in the place of its protagonists to experience the horror with them, the second sits us back to let us watch and presumably revel. It’s a grim brand of horror that is not my jam. Nonetheless, Roberts doesn’t give us much to watch. Silt is kicked up to form much murkiness. The girls swim in brambles of limbs and tanks, often making it impossible to tell who’s who. And there’s zero sense of geography, so there’s no tension derived from anticipating where they are going. That was something the first film did very well, as was setting up expectations of what could happen next. But here, the girls are constantly scrambling. This cave collapses, scramble into that one. This one is a dead-end, how about that one? There’s no sense of momentum, just screeching panic. They are running out of air, but the tension of that is deflated by a lack of explanation. What does 19% of a tank mean time-wise? Without that context, the audience is left to shrug.
There are a few good jump scares in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, but I admittedly am a sucker for shark scares. More vexing is that the CGI used to create these sharks looks TV-movie quality, as if they evolved from Sharknado. Most of the attacks here look like the same shot over and over, a narrow escape and the shark’s thrashing its jaws into a too-small cave opening as all the girls scream into their mask-walkie-talkies and swim away in a flurry of bubbles, limbs, and silty clouds. By the half-way point, I was no longer scared or engaged. I was bored and annoyed. I couldn’t follow the action. I barely cared about the characters. The thrill was gone. By the second or third to last climax sequence, I was done. I just wanted this to end. Which, I guess at least means I was finally relating to the characters.