It doesn’t sound like that great a distance. About half the length of a football field. A distance an elite athlete could cover in about, oh, five seconds or so. Why, I could probably lob a Frisbee 47 meters with a bit of luck and the wind at my back.
But when you’re trapped in a cage 47 meters under the ocean’s surface with 20-foot great white sharks circling menacingly above, well, it may as well be 47 light years.
It’s certainly not the place sisters Lisa and Kate expected to find themselves. They’re vacationing in Mexico, with younger sister Kate taking the spot that Lisa’s beau, Stuart, was supposed to have occupied. Work commitments kept him from coming, Lisa says.
But in the middle of the night at their hotel, Kate gets up to find Lisa weeping. Stuart’s not working, Lisa confesses. He’s left her because she’s just too boring.
Determined to help her sister not be boring anymore, adventurous Kate suggests they go out. Never mind that it’s 1:30 in the morning. And so they do, knocking down shots and chatting with two locals who may or may not have picked up pretty, naïve American tourists before.
After a few rounds, those smooth-talking locals, Javier and Louis, propose that their new friends join them in a shark-watching expedition the next day. They go out with their friend, Captain Taylor, every weekend, the guys say. His boat is equipped with a shark tank that Taylor’s crew drops into well-chummed water, and the sharks show up like clockwork. “It’s like going to the zoo,” one of the guys suggests, “only you’re in the cage.”
Kate’s game. Cautious Lisa, well, she’s not so sure. Doesn’t sound like a good idea, she says.
Then again, Lisa admits, how great would it be to show Stuart that she’s not so boring after all? To show him pictures of her in a cage surrounded by great white sharks?
Well, it would’ve been great. Probably. Had the rickety old boat’s steel cable not snapped right after Lisa and Kate crawled in the cage, that is, sending them plunging—guess what—47 meters down into the abyss below.
Kate’s well-intentioned attempt to cheer up her sister has disastrous unintended consequences, obviously. “I’m so sorry I got you into this,” she says later. Lisa, to her credit, is wisely suspicious of Captain Taylor’s decidedly “low rent” shark viewing boat. “I feel super uneasy about this,” she tells Kate—always a good instinct to heed when floating in shark-infested coastal waters.
Once things go awry, however, Kate and Lisa do everything possible in a harrowing, almost impossible situation to try to get back to the surface in one piece. Both are willing, at different times, to take sacrificial risks for the other. (Also, the woman’s huge masks have microphones and radios to talk to each other and, at times, Captain Taylor, which enables them to formulate strategies for escape.)
It’s difficult to tell whether the slightly sketchy Captain Taylor really does everything possible to rescue the stranded young women. But he does send Javier down with more oxygen and a backup cable, so there is at least an attempt at a rescue. He also calls the Coast Guard (or perhaps the Mexican version of it) to help.
In a couple of hopeful moments, Lisa repeatedly exclaims, “Thank God!”
Kate wears a nightshirt with the sleeves cut off, very briefly making it clear she’s not wearing a bra when she gets out of bed. Kate, Lisa and other women wear revealing swimsuits. Lisa asks Kate if a wetsuit bottom makes her “butt look cute.”
Lisa and Kate both kiss their respective partners, but things never go any further than that. It’s clear that Lisa and Stuart have been living together, but there’s never any talk of the couple being married.
A floating fish head wafts down through bloody water to attract sharks after Captain Taylor’s crew dumps a bucket of chunky chum into the water—foreshadowing the carnage to come.
It accomplishes its purpose, and multiple great whites soon show up. Kate and Lisa are admiring the fishes’ terrible beauty when the cable on the cage snaps, sending the shocked women plunging down. Their collision with the rocky ocean floor is violent enough to knock both of them out momentarily, as well as battering and bloodying them. Lisa awakens with a mask full of blood (apparently from her nose, though it’s not quite clear). Both women nearly hyperventilate in terror. They also soon discover that the rigging from the boat that suspended the cage got yanked off too and sits atop the cage’s lone door.
But being trapped in the cage isn’t their only problem. Those sharks are still around. Their lurking, lunging, predatory presence contributes to multiple jump scenes.
As the movie unfolds, another accident pins one of the women’s legs painfully under the cage. Someone’s hand is badly lacerated by a spear gun. Captain Taylor and Kate both talk (via radio) about the need to ascend slowly, lest the bends—nitrogen bubbles in the brain—kill them.
[Spoiler Warning] Sharks make quick work of a diver bringing the women more oxygen, and Kate briefly sees his body. Shark attacks and further difficulties leave both women bloodied (including graphic injuries the camera very briefly shows us.) Someone claws grossly at a shark’s eye in an attempt to get it to release its bite. There’s also another casualty before the credits roll.
One clearly spoken f-word and perhaps another shouted by one of the women as the cage descends. Four s-words. “P-ssed” is used once. In their terror, the women exclaim “oh my god” nearly 30 times.
Lisa and Kate imbibe multiple shots at a dance club. The opening scene pictures Lisa floating in a hotel swimming pool with a red drink that she spills when Kate comes up, shark-like, beneath her.
There’s talk of nitrogen narcosis, a condition that occurs when divers are forced to breathe from scuba tanks for a long period of time. Captain Taylor tells Kate that the condition can cause hallucinations.
Captain Taylor, while not (apparently) an out-and-out con artist, does seem willing to look the other way in some significant areas. Lisa calls him out for chumming the water with fish blood and carcasses, for instance, which she says is illegal. And it’s also painfully clear to everyone that Lisa’s never actually gone scuba diving before, but Taylor lets it slide and goes along with the fiction that she knows what she’s doing. Lisa apparently vomits (off camera) from nervousness before she and Kate get in the shark tank.
It’s never a good sign when an audience laughs repeatedly at the plight of two terror-stricken women trapped at the bottom of the ocean by nature’s nastiest predators. And yet, as 47 Meters Down made its way through its 89-minute run time, laughs became more and more frequent at the screening I attended. Bad dialog, bad decisions and bad plot holes lacerated the tension the film sought to build, prompting repeated guffaws from the audience.
How, for example, can these women talk to each other on radios, yet their ears aren’t covered by their masks? Why do the sharks seem hungrily interested in some of those in the water, yet utterly and completely ignore others? Why don’t these otherwise intelligent young women ask a few more questions when one of the guys says of the shark cage, “It’s totally safe!”
Given all that, I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that the movie had originally been intended as a direct-to-DVD product, but it was rescued from that fate only when 2016’s The Shallows earned rave reviews and a tidy $120 million internationally.
The makers of 47 Meters Down are clearly hoping for a similar success story here. “The best shark movie since Jaws!” marketers trumpeted when The Shallows came out last year. (Which might be true.) “The best shark movie since Jaws!” marketing material for this forumulaic flick likewise blares. Which makes me wonder if whoever wrote that sentence a) actually saw 47 Meters Down, and b) whether that person has actually seen any other shark movies since the release of Jaws.
OK, so 47 Meters Down isn’t a great shark movie. From a Plugged In perspective, in contrast, I have to admit it’s got a few things going for it. There are just a handful of gory moments, but graphic shark wounds are more alluded to than shown. There’s not too much other content, really, save one clear f-bomb, a few s-words and some brief bikini shots. And these two sisters are clearly, heroically devoted to each other. Which is a nice narrative element, I guess.
In the end, though, their heroism doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. And it certainly doesn’t save a movie that will plunge as quickly into the depths of movie history as Lisa and Kate’s decrepit cage does after its rusty cable snaps.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.