Closing out the summer with far greater efficiency than one might expect, the brisk, brutal sequel 47 Meters Down: Uncaged is notably impressive because it almost didn’t exist at all. Its predecessor was originally sentenced to a muted home entertainment premiere in 2016 before another studio picked it up, repackaged it and pushed it to the following summer, gifting it with a splashy theatrical bow. It paid off: the $5m budget film bit off a $62m worldwide gross, making it one of the most successful independent releases of 2017.
It told the story of sisters whose cage dive goes horribly wrong when a technical fault leaves them marooned in shark-infested water, stuck on the ocean floor. Despite its modest ambitions and solid reviews, I was still rather lukewarm on it, weary of its repetitive nature and aghast at its dim final twist. The follow-up retains the British director Johannes Roberts, who has since added a slick sheen to a mostly unnecessary Strangers sequel, and this time around he’s been given what feels like a slight upgrade in budget, working hard to make a film designated for the big rather than small screen. In what passes for a plot, four teenage girls make the ill-advised decision to explore an underwater Mayan temple and find themselves trapped, oxygen quickly decreasing and, yup, sharks quickly circling.
Without the restriction of a cage (check out that clunky title!), Roberts, who also co-wrote the script, has created a more ambitious survival thriller that relies not only on the girls avoiding sharp-toothed predators but also managing to find a way out of a string of precarious underwater locations. It’s The Descent meets Sanctum but with screechy teens, and it’s this added jeopardy that prevents it from becoming yet another shark movie. Not that Jaws, or at least Deep Blue Sea, fans won’t go home happy, with Roberts packing the 86-minute film with enough effective, if not earth-shattering, action sequences. It might be PG-13 but unlike last year’s disastrously de-gored The Meg, it never feels tamed for a wider audience, with sharply edited death scenes mostly having a suitably nasty effect.
The teens, who include Jamie Foxx’s daughter Corinne and Sylvester Stallone’s daughter Sistine, are all equally forgettable, as is most of their dialogue: their early banter, scripted by two men in their 40s, proves particularly embarrassing. It’s also hard to distinguish between them when they’re underwater, although given their non-existent personalities, it really doesn’t matter too much. Shark bait is shark bait.
While it might not be as inventive as this summer’s other surprisingly effective creature feature Crawl, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged does possess a similar unwillingness to rest on its laurels. As the film progresses, Roberts consistently amps up the action and the stakes and as he races towards the final act he thankfully avoids crowbarring in another silly twist, instead engineering a ferocious, gasp-inducing finale on the open water. It’s refreshing to see a genre film-maker do more than rely on simple tricks and although his knack for dialogue might be questionable, he’s more than capable of constructing a nifty set-piece.
I doubt there’s much more life to squeeze from this franchise (although I would bet money that they’ll try) but as an unrelated sequel to a film that was originally set to premiere on the bottom shelf of a supermarket, this is better than it needs to be.