47 Meters Down: Uncaged (film review)

47 Meters Down: Uncaged is summer movie junk food: it's not nutritious, but you will enjoy snacking on its empty calories as much as sharks enjoy snacking on empty-headed divers.

As far as junk-food cinema goes, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged is hardly more nutritious than 47 Meters Down, but it is a bit tastier. More remake than sequel, it refines the formula of its predecessor, leaving out some of the empty calories and mixing in one or two new ingredients for extra flavor. And if my culinary metaphor seems a bit weird in the context of a horror movie about sharks eating people - well, hey, sharks gotta eat, too, and they do a pretty good job of it here. In fact, when you stop and think about it, the metaphor is perfect: just as the onscreen sharks are ravenously chowing down on empty-headed victims, so are the movie's viewers mindlessly snacking on the empty-headed movie. We can snicker all we like about the artificial ingredients and preservatives, but when a shark takes a bite, the screaming sugar rush is undeniably jolting.

47 Meters Down Uncaged Review: Déjà Vu

If you saw 47 Meters Down, you pretty much know all the story beats you will see here. The story focuses on a pair of sisters (well, step-sisters in this case): one is cool; one is mousy. The cool one talks the mousy one into going on a dangerous dive, which predictably goes wrong, stranding them underwater with limited oxygen and no way to get to the surface, while hungry sharks swarm the nearby waters, eager for tasty treats. You can almost set your watch by the repetition (a male diver comes to help and - 3, 2, 1 - gets eaten!), but in a weird way that helps build suspense because we all know what to anticipate.

The differences this time are (1) in addition to the step-sisters, there are two more bikini-clad girls along for the swim; and (2) instead of open water, the divers are trapped in the catacombs of an underwater city. #1 provides more victims; #2 provides a claustrophobic setting with interesting production design instead of the endless blue-grey of the ocean. It also makes the film feel like an ersatz remake of The Descent: a group of women explore mysterious caverns; they just happen to be underwater, and instead of blind humanoids, the monsters are blind sharks.

One more difference: Despite the title, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged is not set 47 meters down. The issue of decompression caused by rapidly ascending from a great depth is not a plot point in this movie, at all.

47 Meters Down Uncaged Review: Variations on a Theme
47 Meters Down: Uncaged review
Two women of color and one dumb blonde. Taking bets on who survives.

To its credit, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged handles the opening exposition and obligatory character stuff much more efficiently, beginning with a wonderful slow-motion shot of her mousy heroine Mia (Sophie Nélisse) plunging into a pool after being pushed by an obnoxious classmate (Brec Bassinger). The reluctance of her step-sister Sasha (Corinne Foxx) to intercede immediately establishes the relationship, and once established the film assumes we don't need to be minded of it (sparing us the endless whining we endured in from Mandy Moore's character in 47 Meters Down).

Also noteworthy: this time the screenwriters seemed to have realized that, if they are going to place a relationship at the center of the film, they better resolve it by the ending, preferably without a bogus twist that dismisses one of the best scenes as a dream.

Consequently, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged almost works as a narrative regardless of the sharks. I say "almost" because as much as the film tries to go full circle with its structure (another wonderful slow-motion underwater shot of Mia), it never fully pays back bitchy school girl who inadvertently set things in motion - even though she's right there at the end, almost within striking distance. We don't require sophisticated dramaturgy from the genre, but a good horror film should know who deserves to get it in the end.

47 Meters Down Uncaged Review: Ghost Sharks

Story line aside, the effectiveness of 47 Meters Down: Uncaged rests on the threat presented by its sharks. The underwater corridors of the sunken Mayan city provide more than enough hiding places for them to appear from around a corner, and once or twice the film makes good use of underwater silt obscuring vision, turning the sharks into shadowy phantoms.

In fact, these blind creatures are incredibly creepy, their dead white eyes lending them a ghostly look, their hides scarred and tattered, evidence of the many collisions they have suffered while sliding sightlessly through their cramped surroundings.

47 Meters Down Uncaged Review: Faceless Victims
47 Meters Down Uncaged Review
Hard to caption this photo since all the victims look the same behind those diving masks.

One odd thing about the 47 Meters Down movies is that the scuba masks frequently obscure the faces of the cast; much of the dialogue is delivered over long shots, with the voices looped in, making it hard to tell who is speaking or even who is who. This was less a problem in the first film, which focused on two characters trapped in a shark cage, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged frequently has viewers guessing exactly who is in danger at any given moment.

Perhaps the best suspense scene actually takes place above water, when the divers surface but find themselves unable to get out of the water thanks to a steep incline. The resulting panic, when Nicole (Sistine Stallone) pushes another diver aside while trying to ascend a rope to safety, works well because we know the character and believe she would do something so stupid, to the detriment of herself and her friends. A little bit more clarity underwater would have gone a long way toward increasing the fright factor.

47 Meters Down Uncaged Review: Conclusion

It's another movie about sharks eating hot women scuba divers, so what do you expect? As a sequel, it's not only by-the-numbers but by nearly the exact numbers we saw before. And yet, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged delivers as a genre piece, thanks to beautiful photography, eerie CGI shark effects, and an amusing out-of-the-fire-into-the-frying-pan finale that allows our heroines to pull some Chief Brody-style heroics. We wouldn't recommend diving with any of these danger-magnets, but watching them from the safety of your cinema seats is more fun than you might have imagined.

47 Meters Down Uncaged Rating
3

Bottom Line

47 Meters Down Uncaged One SheetMore remake than sequel, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged improves on the formula of the original, creating an enjoyable piece of summer movie junk food that delivers a jolting sugar rush with every (shark) bite.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged (August 16, 2019). Production Company: thefyzz. Distributed by Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures. Rated PG-13. 90 mins.

Credits: Directed by Johannes Roberts. Written by Ernest Riera & Johannes Roberts.

Cast: Sophie Nélisse, Corinne Foxx, Brianne Tju, Sistine Stallone, John Corbett, Nia Long, Brec Bassinger

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.