’47 Meters Down’ Sequel Is Shallow, Not Shallows (Movie Review)

What exactly do we expect from a sequel nowadays? Heck, what should we expect from merely a title of a series? In the old days (the 80s) there’d be straightforward ones like Star Wars that audiences could easily latch onto as George Lucas expanded his saga. These days Universal’s Fast & Furious franchise might play fast and loose with its original intentions but the spirit of it all: the cars, the bros, and the schemes still pretty much fit the name.

What then can be made of the first sequel to 2017’s sleeper hit, 47 Meters Down? That film, directed by Johannes Roberts, was about two siblings (Claire Holt and Mandy Moore) on vacation in Mexico who, upon taking the advice of a few locals, confine themselves in a cage that sinks below the ocean’s surface to see killer sharks up close and personal. But then the chain holding said cage breaks and the two are suddenly stranded… “47 meters down”. Can they get back to the surface before their oxygen tanks empty? How will they avoid those pesky terrors of the deep?

For a tight 89 minutes, 47 Meters Down (mostly) worked as a double feature with The Shallows that starred Blake Lively, another giant shark and was released that same year. In 47 Meters Down, Holt and Moore performed a lot of their own underwater stunts, the sharks were scary enough, and, most importantly, we never got too confused about where our lead protagonists were or how little air they had left.  So yeah, the title worked. Fun fact: the film was originally titled, In the Deep when it was set for “VOD only” release before Entertainment Studios decided to open wide in theaters. The result was the biggest indie movie of the summer with a haul of $65 million worldwide.

While there’s certainly no reason for the original film’s cast to return for a sequel, and no one can blame Roberts for not wanting to just send yet another duo of inexperienced Americans into another cage for a second time, I’m sort of impressed with just how unrelated this summer’s 47 Meters Down: Uncaged is from its predecessor.

The sequel is set in a newly discovered submerged Mayan City. It focuses on four teenage girls (Corinne Foxx, Sophie Nélisse, Sistine Stallone and Brianne Tju), who embark on a deep-sea dive but get lost in a maze of catacombs and sunken statues. (Oddly, no treasure.) They soon get lost and encounter blind (!) Great White sharks who are famished from not having tasty humans to gorge on for presumably centuries. Can these four teens find their way out of a maze-like tomb?

Gone is the vertical challenge of the series’ title – there’s just no way this story takes place thirty meters down much less forty-seven. The “Uncaged” subtitle is merely a meta-textual callout to the first film. To be fair, there is a scene where two of the teens (who are step-sisters) were initially set to board a boat to observe sharks from a glass bottom, which is similar enough to the “close but protected” hook of the original. However, the older sister’s cool friends show up and apply peer pressure, so they ditch that idea to go off the map for an Uncharted adventure.

Having blind Great Whites as the signature baddie is a novel idea, yet doesn’t add up to much more than the would-be shark bait teens ducking and diving in an already too dark, too claustrophobic space. Plus, I’m no shark expert but don’t they use their smell of blood ability more than their eyes anyways?

Whether or not the film’s title can connect these two films, the bottom line is that none of that would matter if the thrills were fun and the characters engaging. They aren’t (well, mostly). Too often Roberts, who did a fine job staging the underwater action in 47 Meters Down, can’t get a handle on just how the characters navigate an underwater lair.

Part of that can be reasoned with “they’re lost, they’re scared!” story logic but it’s mostly just convoluted staging. Another issue is having performers who rarely seem to be doing much by way of underwater stunts. The original wasn’t Mission Impossible, but Moore and Holt had some nice single-take sequences. We could clearly see the actors performing risky moves like when Holt removes her scuba gear to squeeze outside of the cage and (in one take) puts her breathing apparatus back on.

Uncaged’s script (by Roberts and Ernest Riera) do give the four actors serviceable personality traits: Sly’s daughter Sistine is the cool one, Sophie Nélisse the bullied one, etc.) which makes them engaging but none get to do too much in terms of stunts save for a weird big CGI whirlwind of water scene, but it’s uneven and very CGI-looking.

There is one terrifically silly, over-the-top moment that, ironically, is not in the primary underwater city location. It closely resembles the first film. As part of the climax, the two siblings are struggling for their lives as safety is close yet impossible to reach. A palatable spike in the energy is much appreciated as is the almost black comedy use of other high school onlookers. This is the one and only set-piece that recaptures the spirit of the original.

A shame, as I’ve been on a “terror in the water” mood all summer. I re-watched 47 Meters Down (holds up), got a kick out of Crawl, and even dug the production value and scope of last year’s Adrift, starring a (mostly) lone Shailene Woodley. I was primed for more thrills with foolish humans and hungry, powerful animals, but Uncaged left me confused and hungry for more chum.

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