It's been more than 40 years since the release of Jaws, and people are still afraid to go in the water. That's the undeniable quality of the film, that its effect on generations of film fans is still, firstly, fear of what lurks in the water. Since its release, numerous films have tried to emulate the qualities that so richly personify the film, but very few have come close.
Andrew Traucki's The Reef effectively captured the tension, Renny Harlin's Deep Blue Sea crafted the creature feature quality, and Chris Kentis' Open Water had the character dynamics; but where each achieve their own identifying quality, they are all completely influenced by Jaws in one way or another.
Director Johannes Roberts' film 47 Meters Down, which was almost released last year on DVD before being pulled for a wide theatrical release, takes the shark attack film and places it deep beneath the surface of the water. Mr. Roberts' film is full of claustrophobic atmosphere, making the most of its simple premise of monsters lurking in the dark.
Lisa (Mandy Moore) and her sister Kate (Claire Holt) are vacationing in Mexico. Kate, the more adventurous of the two, is helping Lisa cope with a recent break-up. In an effort to show her ex-boyfriend how adventurous she can be, Lisa is coerced by her sister to go on an excursion in a shark tank. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse when their winch breaks and they plummet to the ocean floor surrounded by sharks.
The simpler you can make a shark film, the better it usually is. In the case of 47 Meters Down, it's about as simple as a film like this could get. Mr. Roberts doesn't waste too much time on dry land—aside from a simple introduction to the two sisters' personalities and a little backstory that persuades the characters' decision to get inside a rusty shark tank, the film gets down to the fearful focus of the situation as quickly as it can.
It's within this atmosphere that the film takes shape, turning the murky waters of the deep ocean into the same atmosphere you might associate with a haunted house. In the same way, each time one of the characters ventures into the darkness to help assist their escape from a watery tomb, the film begins to feel like you're watching someone juggle sharp knives; the element of sudden, quick danger becomes ever-present. This structure and environment are the shining elements of this film, one of the primary reasons it works.
Unfortunately, with the simplistic design, there is less time to focus on character development, even though for a small moment in the beginning, the film introduces a character element between the siblings that is interesting. Once the two sisters only have each other to depend on deep in the ocean, the film begins to incorporate some nice twists regarding equipment issues and the physiological aspects of being so deep in the water. But neither of the actors are provided much more than asking the same questions and making the same statements: "I'll be right back," "don't leave me down here," "watch out"; it becomes laughable during times that are supposed to be intense.
47 Meters Down is ingenious in its simplicity, a story that operates to build moments of tension and offer the occasional jump scare. While Jaws will undoubtedly never be duplicated, its effect on the genre will always try to be emulated, and in that regard, this film works much better than most.
Movie Score: 3/5
In case you missed it, read Heather's review of 47 Meters Down.