By Jim Slotek
The basic premise of the oh-my-god-sharks thriller 47 Meters Down is as simple (in every sense of the word) as a theme-park ride.
To wit: Two women (Mandy Moore and Claire Holt) vacationing in Mexico, agree to be lowered in a shark cage to gawk at Great Whites. The cable snaps, and they’re trapped at the ocean bottom with limited air in their tanks (although apparently enough to last through a movie). Above, a school of carcharodon carcharias patiently waits to chomp on them.
Just go with it, and that’s admittedly a fairly nerve-wracking thing to sit through for a while.
Panic-mode, however, is a difficult thing to sustain for 87 minutes. It’s long enough for you to calm down and for intimations of preposterousness to filter through your brain.
Not least of them: A grizzled sea captain like Matthew Modine would never advise anybody thus stranded to just wait at the ocean bottom until help arrives, presumably by the next business day.
No, he’d likely advise them to take their chances and slowly surface (avoiding the bends) and trust that, in an ocean full of fish, a shark would more likely go for a big, fat mackerel than a skinny human with the body-mass index of Mandy Moore.
But here I go overthinking. Must be the nitrogen bubbles in my brain.
Director Johannes Roberts has the unenviable task of making 15 minutes worth of story into a movie. Moore plays Lisa, a recent-dumpee looking to deal with her recent breakup by going on an exciting resort trip with her best friend Kate (Holt). They meet two cute Mexican guys, who convince them to engage in their favourite extreme sport, a sketchy ocean excursion run by a guy they know, Capt. Taylor (Modine).
And the rest, as they say, is hysteria.
The lead-in is, frankly, tedious. But Roberts tries his best, including aiming his patented “breast-cam” at Moore as she emerges from the hotel pool and such (“Hey, Johannes! My eyes are up here.”)
Once on the bottom of the ocean, there are really only two ways for the plot to go. Everything goes wrong in improbable ways. And eventually, things go improbably right in improbable escape schemes. Oh, and there are nitrogen-induced hallucinations to throw at us.
And, of course, there is the spectre of Holt’s lower billing, which makes her much more likely shark-bait. It’s not in the script, but it’s in the back of the mind of every audience member from frame one.
For jump-at-you horror fans only, and then only if all the better movies in the multiplex are sold out.
47 Meters Down. Directed by Johannes Roberts. Stars Mandy Moore, Claire Holt and Matthew Modine. Opens wide June 23.
Jim Slotek is a former Toronto Sun columnist, movie critic, TV critic and comedy beat reporter. He’s been a scriptwriter for the NHL Awards, Gemini Awards and documentaries, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for comedy writing on a special (the NHL Awards). Prior to the Sun, he worked at the Ottawa Citizen as an entertainment reporter.