'47 Meters Down: Uncaged': Film Review
Johannes Roberts goes back underwater for the sequel to his 2017 shark-dodging thriller.
Cave diving — that scuba variant in which divers explore long passages and water-filled voids without having a simple path upwards to safety — is so inherently frightening that even a schlocky film like 2011's Sanctum or Juan Reina's limited-resources doc Diving into the Unknown can get moviegoers biting their nails pretty easily; sharks are a simpler but equally sure-fire source of terror.
Combining the two is a no-brainer for Johannes Roberts and screenwriter Ernest Riera, who need to capitalize on the success of their minimalist aquatic thriller 47 Meters Down without doing something as unimaginative as just going further beneath the surface. (Reportedly, the filmmakers did toy with the idea of making 48 Meters Down.) In 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, the filmmakers set sightless great whites loose in an ancient underwater ruin, and despite having no connection in terms of character or setting to the first film, the results are very similar: The picture delivers enough easy scares to please crowds, while missing many opportunities to up the ante and tossing in moments likely to make discerning moviegoers groan.
Ostensibly set in Mexico (it was shot in the U.K. and the Dominican Republic), this is a Trump-friendly yarn in which no Mexican actors get speaking roles. Our teen protagonists are all students at an international school on the Yucatan; two are step-siblings being raised by Grant (John Corbett), an American archaeologist, and his wife Jennifer (Nia Long).
Grant's daughter Mia (Sophie Nelisse), a punching bag for the school's resident mean girl (Brec Bassinger), is a social liability for Jennifer's popular daughter Sasha (Corinne Foxx); friction between the two prompts some "we're family" talk in the first act, pointedly recalling the first picture's theme of sisters relying on each other. The two had thought they'd spend the weekend with Grant, but he just had a breakthrough at work that demands his attention: In his exploration of an underground Mayan burial city that has been flooded by rising sea levels, he just broke through into a hidden passageway that needs to be mapped immediately. So the girls are sent to join a shark-watching tour on a glass-bottomed boat.
As perfect as that setup might be for a repeat of the last film's careful-what-you-wish-for jeopardy, the girls actually ditch the tour. They join two of Sasha's friends, Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Stallone), for an expedition to a remote, picturesque swimming hole. (Stallone and Foxx are the daughters of actors Sylvester and Jamie, respectively; we'd have a Hollywood-legacy trifecta if only Bassinger, whose name has a double-"s," were related to Kim Basinger.)
Alexa learned of this spot from one of Grant's fellow researchers — it's connected to part of the archaeological site — and the team left a bunch of scuba gear floating on a raft. So the four girls decide to venture into the first chamber of the site, swimming one lap around the ancient statues before returning to their sunbathing. The pic, of course, has other plans.
After being startled by one of the truly icky but likely harmless cave fish they see in the big open chamber, one of the girls accidentally knocks over a giant stone column. Unlikely? Yes. But on the scale of unlikely events to come, it hardly merits a raised eyebrow. Soon, the divers have encountered a great white shark they surmise to be the product of centuries of evolution away from the open sea. It's blind, so its eyes are even creepier than usual — but the movement of panic-flapping human legs gets it so worked up it somehow makes the entrance tunnel collapse, trapping the girls inside.
Realizing that this chamber is connected via some maze-like path — who knows how long — to the site Grant gets to through a different opening, the girls accept that their only hope of escape is to dive deeper into the complex. But taking this uncertain route would be scarier for the viewer if the film weren't so dishonest about oxygen tanks: After their initial, leisurely swim into the cave, each girl's tank had dropped from 100 percent full to 40 percent. At that rate, their first terrifying encounter with the shark — all screaming, flailing and panting — should have nearly depleted their tanks. Instead, they have enough to get through many more near-misses and action scenes; we're forced to accept that each tank will have just enough oxygen until the script decides it's empty.
47 Meters Down: Uncaged is similarly unconvincing about the abilities of that blind shark and his inevitable buddies. Their ability to sense swimmers' presence seems almost entirely unrelated to how much they move or how noisy they are. In some scenes, a diver stays within arm's length of the circling sharks long enough to count their teeth; elsewhere, a barely moving swimmer is an easy target for a beast that comes out of nowhere.
Set disbelief aside, and primal phobias may well suffice to get you happily to the other side of this adventure. But be warned: The film ends with a bad joke, and that joke gets worse a couple of times — shark-flick parody bad — before it's over.
Production company: Fyzz Pictures
Distributor: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures
Cast: Sophie Nelisse, Corinne Foxx, Brianne Tju, Sistine Stallone, John Corbett, Nia Long, Brec Bassinger, Davi Santos, Khylin Rhambo
Director: Johannes Roberts
Screenwriters: Ernest Riera, Johannes Roberts
Producers: James Harris, Robert Jones, Mark Lane
Executive producers: Byron Allen, Andrew Boucher
Director of photography: Mark Silk
Production designer: David Bryan
Costume designer: Claire Finlay
Editor: Martin Brinkler
Casting director: Colin Jones
Rated PG-13, 89 minutes