47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)
Director: Johannes Roberts
Screenwriters: Johannes Roberts, Ernest Riera
Starring: Sophie Nelisse, Corinne Foxx, Brianne Tju, Sistine Stallone
47 Meters Down: Uncaged is a film almost completely unrelated to its 2017 predecessor. The story in this follow up revolves around a group of teen girls going scuba diving in a sunken Mayan city that is infested with sharks. While the premise sounds crazy, you can be rest assured that this was intentional and that those at the helm of the movie thought this would take the script from regular old survivor horror film to fun survivor horror film.
“We really tried to keep it, in its own way, grounded, even though the movie goes off in its own direction,” director Johannes Roberts told Bloody Disgusting. In another interview, the director addressed the power of the film’s self-awareness when it moves into less-grounded territory, describing it as the type of film where “you know what you’re getting into”, an aspect of the process he described as “fun to me”.
I didn’t know what I was getting into going to see it.
It wasn’t the blind sharks that lived in drowned cities for thousands(?) of years that bothered me most. There are a lot of ridiculous things about this movie that the director is very aware of – these inexperienced divers wouldn’t last this long, fish probably wouldn’t scream at a diver, sharks cannot grow to the size of Bruce without a steady supply of food – but I can put all that aside; for those elements I can suspend my disbelief. My biggest issues with Uncaged were much more logical: the writing, middling CGI, and the cinematography.
Those attempts at self-awareness, be it through obvious foreshadowing, movie references or jokes, do not improve the film (though some actual horror would). Self-awareness isn’t a magic wand you wave that suddenly makes everything work. There are a lot of terrible self-aware movies out there, and those moments can easily take an audience member out of the world of the film, especially one that is supposed to be grounded in our reality. One of the main examples in this movie is a screaming fish.
Roberts says that the moment needed a spook, and that he tried different ways to make the fish scary. My question regarding this is: why that was even necessary? It didn’t have to be a scary fish, it could have been anything they wanted it to be. They could have chose to use a jellyfish at that moment, or a small shark, even perhaps another diver jumping in from out of frame to give us a fright. It honestly doesn’t matter to me whether screaming fish are is real or not; it took me out of the moment by making me question the concept. Can fish scream? Would you hear it? The primary purpose of the moment is lost because of the final choice, and it isn’t rescued by the filmmaker’s awareness that this is all a bit of fun.
There’s another questionable scene where a blind shark is swimming above the characters as they breathe hard and make noises that let us know they’re scared. The shark is supposed to have evolved down in these depths (*eyeroll*), and that is supposed to give it improved hearing, smelling, etc., but here it is, aimlessly swimming by with seemingly no senses and no threat. These characters could be leaking blood and this poor shark would just keep swimming above them in circles.
One of the worst moments of Uncaged, which was probably supposed to be self-aware, was a direct reference to another shark film; the perfect way to take knowledgeable audience members out of your horror movie. If Paranormal Activity borrowed a scene from The Blair Witch Project, horror nerds wouldn’t be impressed with the homage, they’d see it as lazy filmmaking. That’s exactly what I thought when this film jumped the shark by shoving in a Deep Blue Sea reference with no subtlety or wit. It’s literally just what happens in the other movie, and the characters are rightfully horrified, but it would play better as self-aware if the characters reacted in the opposite way (which would admittedly be just as stupid in its own way based upon the characters involved).
Another weak point of the film is the dialogue. Characters discuss their relations with one another so shallowly that I could probably only use topics like “job”, “age”, or “character archetype” to describe them. They talk about their feelings because we probably wouldn’t know them otherwise. I think the closest to subtext the lines get are when one character mentions rising sea levels drowning the Mayan ruin, but there’s nothing else that can be construed as a critique to climate change; in fact, nature is the absolute antagonist in this movie.
Most frustratingly, Uncaged was filled with repitition. When faced with a new challenge, characters would typically describe it to the audience with little detail over and over. “Oh no, dead end.” “The shark is behind us and there’s no way out.” Then something happens, and they freak out, hyperventilate, go on about what they’re trying to do, and then a solution finally appears. There’s a veneer of proactivity on the character’s part that mostly involves them shining their flashlights onto the exact spot that has a hole or crack to swim through.
Maybe I could even look past all of this if the visuals were good, but they’re not. The sharks, the whole reason to see this movie, don’t look great. Anytime one gets stuck in a tunnel (it happens a lot), the CGI is rough. It doesn’t help that their white coloring makes them stand out from the background.
Roberts discussed how the film was tough to light, and that comes through in the final cut. There are moments that are really difficult to see because of the darkness. It’s hard to tell which character is which at times. The camera moves around rooms and disorients the audience, which seems more incidental than expressionistic. It’s jarring when characters are screaming, the camera is jumping, the sound is booming, and while you can follow what’s going on, it’s disorienting and takes a moment to figure out. It would be okay if that added to the tension, but it mostly makes it unenjoyable to watch.
Despite all the bad, the set and setting are the film’s greatest strength. It takes place in a submerged Mayan city, and scenes contain all kinds of art and relics that I haven’t seen in a horror film before. The first movie felt overly claustrophobic, and this setting allows for more spaces to work in as the characters swim through tunnels to access different areas of the city. They chose really interesting alcoves and beautiful locations in the Dominican Republic to shoot in, and I’m sure the actors enjoyed their time shooting on land.
Even so, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged is a horror film that fails to live up to its purpose; no amount of allusions or humor can save this from being a mess of a movie. I’d advise you all to avoid diving deep into your pockets for a movie ticket and instead stay above sea level. Wait until you can watch this from the comfort of your own bath instead.