One of the surprise box office hits of 2017, 47 Meters Down tells the story of two sisters.
Kate (Claire Holt) is free-spirited, glamorous, and always up for a new adventure. Her older sister, Lisa (Mandy Moore) is more serious and responsible. If Kate craves constant stimulation, Lisa seeks stability. When we first meet them, they’re on vacation in Mexico. Lisa has just admitted to Kate that her boyfriend has dumped her because he feels that she’s too safe and that she doesn’t take enough risks. What is Kate’s solution to all of Lisa’s problems? How about going on a cage dive and seeing the sharks!?
Now, I should stop right here to point out the main strengths of 47 Meters Down. The main character is named Lisa. For me, this made her instantly sympathetic and I was able to relate to her, even though I’ve always been more like Kate. I can’t even begin to tell you how many movies could have been improved by renaming their main character Lisa.
Anyway, Lisa and Kate find a group of slightly seedy sailors who own a boat and a cage and soon, they’re off to see the sharks. Before getting into the water, both Lisa and Kate are warned about all the bad things that can happen during a dive. You can run out of oxygen. You can get eaten by a shark. You can resurface too quickly and get “the bends.” We here a lot about “the bends” over the course of the film. That’s when you get nitrogen bubbles in your brain and it can cause you to get delirious and hallucinate. It’s a pretty serious thing but I have to admit that I kept giggling whenever anyone said, “Be careful, you’ll get the bends!” because ….. listen, it just sounds silly, okay? I get that the bends are a real thing and that they’re really dangerous and that they should be taken seriously but “the bends’ just sounds like a punchline to a vulgar joke. Whenever I heard anyone in the film use the term, I was just like, “Wasn’t that Beto O’Rourke’s college band?”
Lisa is nervous about going in the water. Kate isn’t. It turns out that maybe Lisa had the right idea because, almost immediately after Lisa and Kate are submerged, the cables holding the cage snap and suddenly, the two sisters find themselves trapped 47 meters down. If they leave the cage and attempt to swim back up to the surface, they might very well get eaten by a shark. And if the sharks don’t get them, there’s always …. the bends! The men on the boat swear that they’re going to rescue the two sisters but who knows if they can be trusted. Meanwhile, the oxygen tanks will soon be empty….
47 Meters Down may have been a surprise box office success when it was released in 2017 but the critics absolutely hated it. Watching the film, it’s easy to see why. The critics who complained that the film was predictable had a point. However, the audiences who didn’t care what the critics thought had a point as well. Silly as the film may occasionally be, it works. When that cage sinks down into the murky darkness of the ocean, the film captures some very primal fears. When Lisa and Kate argue about what to do next, it’s a scene to which anyone who has a sibling should be able to relate. The relationship between Lisa and Kate felt authentic, which made the film’s final twist far more powerful than it had any right to be.
47 Meters Down is somewhat silly but it’s still an effectively entertaining look at sisters, divers, and the sharks that like to eat them.