The swirl of red in the water that opens Johannes Roberts’ 47 Meters Down isn’t someone’s blood but a spilled glass of cabernet. And we’re not in the vast void that is the Pacific Ocean, but rather a Cancun resort pool where we find sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) embracing the sort of hedonistic pleasures that can seriously bend someone’s perception of reality. It’s a place where people go to forget, and in Lisa’s case, she’s getting over a breakup with her long-time boyfriend. Lisa confesses that the reason for the breakup was because she’s too boring. This absence of temerity will serve as the propulsive narrative element that finds Lisa and Kate at the bottom of the ocean encircled by sharks. Consciousness effectively becomes nature’s nightmare, where being mauled by a school of elasmobranchii proves to be a rational alternative to being a boring human being – this boozy film is a little more interesting than it lets on.
Roberts stages the film as a series of procedures: Lisa and Kate enter the shark-proof cage, the cage’s pulley system fails, and now the two must get out. Equipped with scuba gear that includes microphones and radios, the two are able to communicate to one another and their ship’s captain Taylor (Matthew Modine). Yet coordinating their rescue proves difficult given their depth (communication with Taylor requires the two women to exit their shelter to reach a higher altitude), the threat of the bends, and of course, the shark-infested waters. What comes from this is a series of missteps and half-measures, where Kate attempts to cajole Lisa to take action rather than succumbing to her passive (i.e; boring) disposition.
Scripted by Roberts and co-writer Ernest Riera, 47 Meters Down never sounds especially convincing; its dialogue riddled with numerous vapid exchanges. The two are especially prone to spelling out every bit of visual action with dialogue, with Moore essentially narrating the very beating of her heart. But there’s no denying the film has a particularly charming quality spun out of Roberts’ craft. His camera will swoop in and around the ocean floor, gleefully toying with expectations on when a shark will emerge from the dark blue. And there’s an intriguing thematic depth to the picture, one that questions the nature of boldness and the misguided principles associated with obtaining, or rather experiencing, experience. Kate will convince Lisa to proceed with doing the shark-cage dive “for the pictures”, suggesting that capturing the experience will serve as its own sort of validation. As they descend into the water, Lisa drops the camera as a shark inhales it. Experience, as it were, is not something to be shared on your Instagram.