Tuesday, July 18, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: 47 Meters Down

47 Meters Down was written by Ernest Riera and Johannes Roberts. It was directed by Johannes Roberts.

Riera and Roberts co-wrote The Other Side Of The Door, which I've never heard of. Roberts previously wrote and directed a bunch of other films I've never heard of, including Hellbreeder, Darkhunters, Forest Of The Damned, F and Storage 24.

As an aside here, I feel obligated to point out that Roberts' Storage 24 is noteworthy as one of the lowest grossing movies of all time. As part of a TV deal, it was released in exactly one theater for one day, where it earned an amazing $72.

47 Meters Down is a perfect example of the "survival horror" genre, in which the characters are placed in highly contrived and deadly situations, and have to figure out a way to escape. Think Frozen (the one about being trapped on a ski lift, not the Disney thing), The Reef, The Canyon, The Ruins and Eden Lake, among others.

Jaws is the granddaddy of all shark movies, and even though it came out over forty years ago, it still casts a long shadow in Hollywood. Any similar movie is automatically going to be compared to Spielberg's classic, so if you've got the chutzpah to attempt to make a shark movie these days, it'd better be a damned good one. Sadly, 47 Meters Down is not going to be dethroning Jaws anytime soon.

47 Meters Down was originally shot as a direct-to-video film, scheduled for release in August, 2016. Dimension Films then sold the rights to Entertainment Studios (which has to be the blandest possible name for a business). They were apparently so impressed with the film that they scheduled it for a theatrical release in June, 2017.

As we all know here at Bob Canada's BlogWorld, any time a movie is delayed for ANY reason, it's ALWAYS a bad, bad sign. And so it is with 47 Meters Down. It's not the worst thing I've ever seen, but there's no tension, zero scares and very little in the way of sharks. It really does feel like a Siffy Channel movie that somehow found its way into the cineplex.

Somehow the film's a modest hit, grossing $41 million against its minuscule $5 million budget. Even subtracting marketing costs (if there were any), that's not a bad return. Look for 94 Meters Down in theaters next year!


The Plot:
We start with the usual urban horror movie setup— sisters Lisa (played by Mandy Moore) and Kate (played by Claire Holt) are attractive young Americans vacationing in Mexico. Lisa's boyfriend Stewart just broke up with her because she's "boring," so she's traveling with Kate to prove him wrong. She hopes once Stewart sees she can be spontaneous, he'll come running back to her. Sounds like Stewart's better off without her if you ask me.

Kate drags Lisa out for a night on the town, where they meet two local men, Louis and Benjamin. They hit it off and have a great time, thanks to blessed alcohol. The men tell them they're going shark diving in the morning, and invite the girls to come along. Kate's up for it of course, but Lisa's not so sure, because she's boring. Kate eventually talks her into it.

They meet the guys at the dock the next morning, where they're introduced to Taylor (played briefly by a vacationing Matthew Modine). Taylor's the captain of a comically decrepit boat that you'd only find in a movie, complete with an alarmingly rusty shark cage. No one in their right mind would ever step foot on this tub, but of course Kate's somehow able to talk Lisa into going.

Taylor asks the girls if they've ever been diving before. Kate has, but of course Lisa hasn't because she's boring. She lies and says yes, and Taylor knows she's lying, but takes her money anyway. They chug out onto the ocean, where Taylor's "crewman" Javier starts chumming the water to attract sharks. Kate points out that this is illegal, but Javier says it's OK because they're in Mexico. Charming!

Soon a couple of sharks show up, and Louis and Benjamin get in the cage. Seems odd that the two guys would dive together, but whatever. Taylor lowers the cage just under the water, and the guys get a spectacular view of the sharks swimming around them.

When it's the girl's turn, Taylor infodumps a bunch of expository dialogue, carefully explaining to them (and the audience) how scuba tanks and depth gauges work. He lowers them just under the water, and after a few minutes the girls see an impossibly huge Great White shark cruise past.

Lisa starts getting nervous (because she's boring), and uses her scuba mask's' hi-tech communication system to tell Taylor to bring them up. As he does, his rickety winch malfunctions, and the cage suddenly drops a dozen feet or so. The girls panic and try to get out of the cage. Before they can though, the winch chain breaks and the cage plummets to the ocean floor, 47 Meters Below (Houston, We Have A Title!).

They try to radio Taylor, but unfortunately they're too far down (really?). Kate opens the hatch at the top of the cage and swims up to 40 meters, where she can finally contact Taylor. He tells them to stay put in the cage, as ascending too quickly will give them the bends and kill them. He says he's sending Javier down with a cable to pull them back up with his "spare winch."

The girls huddle in the tank as they watch their oxygen supplies slowly dwindle. They see a flashlight in the distance, and realize it's Javier. They start banging on the cage to attract his attention, but the flashlight hangs motionless in the gloom. Kate's oxygen is dangerously low (because she swam up to contact Taylor, I guess?), so Lisa reluctantly offers to go meet Javier and bring him back.

Lisa hugs the ocean floor as she slowly makes her way to the flashlight. She comes to a terrifying sheer drop-off, with no discernible bottom, and  forces herself to cross it. Suddenly a shark appears, and she hides in a small cave until it leaves. She makes it to the flashlight, but doesn't see Javier anywhere. She sees his speargun lying by the light.

She grabs the flashlight and spear and swims back to the cage. She's horrified when she spots half of Javier's body on the ocean floor, along with the cable. She pulls the cable back to the cage and attaches it to the top. She then swims up to 40 meters to tell Taylor to start pulling them up. Lisa gets back in the cage, and sees Kate's air is almost gone.

The cage begins rising slowly, so as not to give the girls the bends. Hilariously, when they get to 20 meters this cable snaps as well (!), and the cage falls back down to the bottom (!!!). Unfortunately Lisa's leg is pinned under the heavy cage, trapping her. Kate swims up to tell Taylor they're still alive, and he says he's sending down extra oxygen tanks for them. He warns Kate that switching tanks can cause "nitrogen narcosis," and they may start hallucinating (?). He says he's alerted the Coast Guard, which should arrive within an hour to rescue them.

Kate sees two tanks and some flares fall to the ocean floor and swims out to get them. Her air's almost gone, and she manages to switch to one of the new tanks in the nick of time. A shark appears (a rarity in this film) and she hides against some rocks until it swims away. Just as she reaches the cage, the shark reappears and carries her off, presumably killing her. She drops the other tank just outside the cage.

Lisa weeps for her sister until her oxygen gauge starts beeping, indicating she's almost out of air. Unfortunately she can't reach the extra tank just outside the cage, as her leg's pinned. She uses Javier's speargun to try and drag the tank to her. She accidentally fires the gun, slicing open her hand. Eventually she manages to hook the tank and is somehow able to swap it out like a pro seconds before her air runs out. She then inflates her BCD (Buoyancy Control Device), which lifts the cage just enough for her to rip her leg out from under it.

She swims out of the top of the cage, and miraculously runs into a badly-wounded Kate (hmm...). The two swim slowly to the surface, stopping periodically so they don't get the bends. They decide to light the flares, hoping they'll ward off sharks. They light one, and when it goes out, Kate lights the other, but drops it. Lisa lights the third and last flare, which reveals they're surrounded by a dozen hungry sharks.

Somehow the girls make it to the surface. Louis and Benjamin pull them out of the water. Just as Lisa's almost in the ship, a shark leaps up and chomps on her leg. She jabs it in the eye, causing it to let go. She lies on the deck of the boat, laughing in relief.

Suddenly Lisa wakes up, and realizes everything after Kate's death was an elaborate hallucination and she's still trapped in the cage (!). She sees Coast Guard divers come toward her and remove her from the cage. The movie ends as they lift her slowly to the surface. Or maybe this was another hallucination, who knows?

• For a film that advertises itself as a "shark movie," there really aren't all that many sharks in it. The movie's only eighty five minutes long, and less than ten of them actually feature sharks.

• 47 meters is only about 154 feet. Put that way, such a depth doesn't sound all that terrifying or dangerous. Amazingly though, you don't have to go very deep before you start feeling the effects of the sea. Water pressure increases one atmosphere for every ten meters you descend. So at 47 meters it would feel like almost FIVE atmospheres pressing against your body!

• Matthew Modine shows up for a few minutes in the movie as the "Day Player." 

See, low budget movies don't have the budget for an all-star cast, so they often hire one big name actor— usually an older star whose fame has faded a bit. The producers can usually only afford to pay them for one day, two at the most. They then use that day to film as many scenes as they can with the actor. Then they sprinkle those scenes throughout the movie, to give the illusion that they're in it much more than they really are.

This is an old, old trick employed by thousands of cheap B-movies.

This is definitely the case here with Matthew Modine. He appears in a couple of brief scenes at the beginning of the movie and then completely disappears. His voice is occasionally heard on the radio a couple times afterward, but that's it.

• It occurred to me while writing this review that this is the first ever Mandy Moore movie I've ever seen in my life. I guess at long last I can finally cross that item off my bucket list.

• James Van Der Beek was cast as Lisa's boyfriend Stuart, and filmed several scenes with Mandy Moore. All his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor though, as the final film just references him briefly. 

For some reason, Louis and Benjamin get in the shark cage together, leaving the girls up on the ship with Taylor and Javier. When they're done, Kate and Lisa then pair up in the cage. Doesn't that seem a little strange?

Presumably they're all on a double date, right? So why wouldn't each guy pair up with one of the girls for their dive?

Answer: Because if the experienced Benjamin paired up with Lisa, he'd have known exactly what to do when the cage plummeted to the ocean floor, and the movie would have been fifteen minutes long.

Plus, like it or not, women are generally seen as more vulnerable than men, so it's supposedly scarier to have two frightened gals trapped on the ocean floor.

This is what you call your Plot Contrivance. There was no logical reason to have the girls dive together, other than to make the movie scarier.

• For someone with such a ramshackle, derelict boat, Taylor's scuba gear has a surprisingly sophisticated communication system. The characters have no difficulty talking to one another, even under water.

That said, this comm system seems to have an extremely limited range. The cage falls to the ocean floor, and the two women can't contact Taylor on his ship, which is only 154 feet above. Kate eventually has to swim up to 40 meters, or 131 feet, before Taylor can pick up her signal.

154 feet doesn't seem like enough distance to cause a radio signal to fade. Does water somehow block radio waves?

• I've never been scuba diving in my life, so my knowledge of it's pretty limited. From what I've read though, the scuba science in this movie is woefully inaccurate. Laughable, even. Here're a few examples of things the movie got wrong.

As the girls get in the shark tank, Taylor explains that they have an hour's worth of oxygen. But the amount of time you can breathe a tank of compressed air decreases with depth. A scuba tank might well last an hour near the surface, but at 47 meters you'd only get twenty five minutes. Even less if you're panicking or exerting yourself, like the characters were.

Taylor constantly warns the girls that they'll get the bends if they surface too fast. Unfortunately going down is just as bad as coming up. At the high rate of speed the cage fell, the girls' eardrums would have likely burst, possibly causing permanent deafness!

Taylor also warns Kate and Lisa about "nitrogen narcosis," saying it could cause them to experience elaborate hallucinations. Yeah, that's not how it works. It doesn't cause you to dream up fully-realized fantasy worlds, it just makes you dull-witted, like you're drunk.

The question is, do these inaccuracies really matter?

My first instinct is to say yes. A screenwriter should always try to be as accurate as possible, especially these days when looking up facts and figures literally takes seconds.

But then I start thinking about Jaws. It's one of the greatest movies ever made, yet it features some truly eye-rolling shark behavior (contrary to popular belief, real sharks don't stalk people like the villain in a slasher film). 
It's not fair to give the scientific inaccuracy in Jaws' a pass while mocking 47 Meters Down for doing the same thing.

After thinking about it a while, I came up with an answer to the accuracy question. If a movie features a particular procedure in a brief scene that isn't integral to the plot, then scientific accuracy isn't that big a deal. But if the ENTIRE PLOT revolves around a specific activity (like scuba diving), then it absolutely needs to be as accurate as humanly possible.

• Near the end of the film, Lisa and Kate make it to the surface and swim to the boat. Just as Lisa's pulled from the water, a shark jumps up and bites her on her leg. Somehow she manages to free herself and is pulled to safety. She lays on the deck, happy to finally be out of the water.

Annnnnd then she comes to, realizing her whole "rescue" was just an hallucination, and she's still sitting on the ocean floor! So basically she created an elaborate fantasy in which she's attacked by a shark during her "rescue!" I dunno about anyone else, but I don't think I'd incorporate something like that into my imaginary dream world.

47 Meters Down is a survival horror film that's light on thrills, scares and, well, horror. Worst of all, for a film that's ostensibly about sharks, there're very few of them on display. In fact the biggest danger in the movie isn't from man-eating fish, but from shady tour guides with dilapidated boats. The movie's also filled with nonsensical and inaccurate "science" that'll have scuba enthusiasts in the audience rolling their eyes till they sprain 'em. Do yourself a favor and rewatch Jaws instead. I give it a C-.

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