’47 Meters Down’ Thrills You Just When You Thought it was Safe to Go Back into the Water

47 Meters Down movie poster

From its poster, “47 Meters Down” looks like one of those Syfy flicks like “Sharknado” or “Lavalantula” which are enjoyable for being infinitely silly and having pathetic CGI effects. Or perhaps it would be like one of those knockoff movies from The Asylum, a production company shameless in capitalizing on blockbuster films by using titles and screenplays similar to them (“Snakes on a Train” or “Transmorphers” anyone?). Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to make something similar to the 2016 sleeper hit “The Shallows” which stared Blake Lively as a surfer who has to use her wits in order to keep from being eaten by a great white shark. Either way, I came into this movie figuring it would be one you should not take the least bit seriously and enjoy for all the wrong reasons.

But to my surprise, “47 Meters Down” is a very effective thriller which is lean in its execution, and its main intent is to take you on a pulse pounding ride. In many ways, it is like Renny Harlin’s “Deep Blue Sea” which, while by no means an artistic triumph, played around with the clichés we remember most from shark movies like “Jaws,” and it employs them to where we think we know what to expect, but our expectations are thrown for a loop. What results is a motion picture which knows exactly what it needs to do and how to do it.

Mandy Moore and Clair Holt star as Lisa and Kate, sisters who, as the movie starts, are on vacation in Mexico. One night they run into some local guys who invite them to go cage diving for sharks. Just like Richard Dreyfuss in “Jaws,” these two women will be lowered into the ocean in a cage where they will get to see those sharp-toothed creatures up close without being eaten. But of course, we all know things will not go as planned as our two leads and the characters around them make one stupid mistake after another. Then again, if they didn’t make those mistakes, there would be no movie.

The clichés abound in “47 Meters Down” as the boat the ladies will be traveling on looks far too rusty to sail anywhere safely. You have Matthew Modine on board as the captain of the ship, Taylor, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Quint from “Jaws.” There’s also the fact that these ladies have never scuba-dived before, and you know this is just asking to invite disaster. We have the air gauges which act as the plot’s ticking time bomb as the ladies threaten to run out of air sooner than they think, they cut themselves to where blood flows from their bodies, thus inviting any shark in the vicinity to drop by and feast on human flesh, and there’s always the one guy who is there to save everybody’s ass, but we all know how long he will last (or do we?).

Lisa also exhibits tremendous anxiety about doing this even as Kate assures her this will be the best time the two of them have ever had (it won’t). Hearing this conversation between them immediately reminded me of a number of “Star Wars” characters saying this infamous line from one movie to the next: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Another unforgettable piece of dialogue which crossed my mind was Jon Voight’s line from “Deliverance” when he said to Burt Reynolds, “Let’s go back to town and play golf.” This was good advice which was left unheeded, and it makes perfect sense how Lisa’s common sense could be overturned by Kate’s need for adventure.

As you can imagine, everything goes terribly wrong as the boat winch breaks, and the women plummet down 47 meters to the seafloor. Director Johannes Roberts wisely keeps the majority of the action underwater as Lisa and Kate struggle to stay calm and not use up their dwindling supply of air. He puts us right in their shoes as, like them, we are left to wonder what the crew members in the boat are doing to bring them back to the surface or if they are doing anything at all. Roberts is also aided strongly by a pulse-pounding film score from Tomandandy whose work on “Killing Zoe” and “The Hills Have Eyes” remake rank among my favorites. Their music heightens an already intense motion picture to something which will fry your nerves and leave you on the edge of your seat even as we are forced to endure some unintentionally hilarious moments.

Granted, you can’t always expect David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin to be underwater with you when words fail you. When Moore cries out about how the shark almost got me, the audience I was with couldn’t help but laugh as it seems like such a silly thing to say. But then again, what would really say if we were stuck in the same predicament? I doubt we would be uttering a monologue out of Eugene O’Neill’s “A Long Day’s Journey into Night.” Of course, it always helps to have John Milius around when you need him.

Moore and Holt do strong work in creating a bond between and work hard to create characters who, while not having too much in the way of depth, quickly realize they need one another to survive this ordeal. Seeing one of them take off their mask and remove their oxygen tank just to get through the bars of the cage is enough to make one shiver, and this is accomplished without the use of special effects. The actresses are also aided by actor Matthew Modine who plays the Captain of the boat, Taylor. For the most part, we hear his voice more than we see him, but he gives strong support as he encourages his guests, people he never should have put in any danger, a reason to stay calm. In addition, he also reminds the ladies and the audience that the bends is not just the title of a Radiohead album.

Roberts previously directed “The Other Side of the Door,” a supernatural horror thriller which started off well, but later got bogged down in clichés it would have been smarter to avoid. “47 Meters Down,” however, is all about clichés, and just as Harlin did with “Deep Blue Sea,” he manages to manipulate those clichés to where we think we know what to expect, and then we are totally caught off guard. Just watch the scene where the actresses are playing around with an underwater camera, and you will understand what I mean.

Yes, the sharks are CGI, but they are still frightening antagonists in this movie. After a while, the terror comes from a combination of what we think is going on above the water as well as what we cannot see. The water is made to look especially murky to where we can’t see much of what is in front of us, and this leads to an especially scary moment when a character swims out to a certain point, and then suddenly can’t remember the direction in which she came.

Look, “47 Meters Down” is not Oscar material, but it never pretends to be either. While it may not reach the heights of “Jaws” or the unbearable intensity of “Open Water,” it is a taut thriller which will allow the audience a nice diversion for a couple of hours. Roberts and his cast understand exactly what this movie aims to be, and they deliver in a way which will get your adrenaline pumping. You can laugh all you want at the foolishness of the characters, but in this instance their foolishness is necessary for this movie to work at all.

* * * out of * * * *

The Other Side Of The Door

The Other Side of the Door movie poster

The Other Side of the Door” is a lot like last year’s “The Lazarus Effect,” another movie dealing with the resurrection of the dead. Both movies have up and coming directors at the helm and a cast of talented actors eager to dig deep into the material. But while each movie gets off to a solid start to where we are utterly enthralled, they get weighed down by clichés and an inescapable familiarity which turns them into utter disappointments. What starts off as promising eventually becomes something stale and unoriginal, and “The Other Side of the Door” quickly becomes the kind of movie we have seen one too many times.

We are introduced to Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Michael (Jeremy Sisto), a loving American couple who decide to set up roots in India. But their joy of living in a foreign country is forever destroyed when their son Oliver (Logan Creran) is killed in a tragic car accident, and Maria cannot find a way to ease the pain of such a devastating loss. Their housekeeper Piki (Suchitra Pillai-Malik), however, tells Maria of a way she can say a last farewell to Oliver, and it involves spreading his ashes on the stairs of an ancient temple which is said to be close to the underworld, and she has to close the temple’s door and spend the night there. Eventually, Maria hears Oliver’s voice on the other side of the door and gets to talk to him one last time.

There’s a little catch to this plan though; Piki tells Maria that she cannot under any circumstances open the door during this conversation. You don’t even need to guess what happens next. Maria does indeed open the door, and in the process creates an unbalance between the worlds of the living and the dead. As a result, Oliver is brought back to the living as a ghost, and a horrific god gets unleashed who will soon wreak havoc on Maria and her family.

Like I said, this movie gets off to a promising start as it takes the themes of death and resurrection and applies mystical powers to them in a way I haven’t seen before. Usually in this genre the dead are buried in a sacred Indian ground or brought back to life with some amazing potion, but “The Other Side of the Door” takes a slightly different approach as it deals with mysticism. This helps to make it stand out from other movies of its type, but unfortunately it becomes bogged down by a familiarity which renders it average at best. In these movies the dead come back, and they are never the same as when they were alive. You know the drill.

It’s a shame because the actors cast here do terrific work in creating a believable couple trying to get through the worst thing any parent could ever live through. The real standout here is Sarah Wayne Callies who plays Maria as she makes her character’s pain and vulnerabilities all the more palpable. Best known for her work on “Prison Break” and “The Walking Dead,” she gives a really strong performance which is emotionally raw to where you cannot help but feel for her even as she makes big mistakes. Callies makes this movie worth watching as she almost makes you forget about what’s wrong with it.

“The Other Side of the Door” also benefits from the presence of Jeremy Sisto who plays Maria’s husband, Michael, as he makes him the kind of loving spouse anyone would be lucky to have. Like Callies, he brings a strong human presence to this movie as Michael does what he can to rescue Maria from her infinitely deep depression. Whereas most movies would have had this character acting like an ineffectual buffoon, Sisto makes Michael a believably decent human being who is trying to do the best he can.

But after the movie’s first act which has Oliver’s ghost begging for his mother to read him Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” it descends into “Pet Sematary” and “The Lazarus Effect” territory as the resurrected dead end up terrorizing those who loved them the most. Director Johannes Roberts, who previously directed the critically acclaimed thriller “F” and the sci-fi horror film “Storage 24,” does give us a number of undeniably creepy moments, but even he is unable to transcend this material which is all too familiar to horror movie fans.

When “The Other Side of the Door” reaches its conclusion, it ends on an ambiguous note like many horror movies do, but it just makes the whole movie feel more routine than it already is. All these movies about bringing the dead back to life always have the most innocent characters coming back as something purely evil, and they are filled with others who constantly stare at the protagonists as if to say, “You really screwed up and we’re not going to let you forget it.” It’s a shame because the movie had a lot of promise and some terrific performances, but in the end it just feels like the same old thing and becomes much less frightening as a result. Better luck next time.

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016

* * out of * * * *