Into the deep

‘47 Meters Down’ is a guilty-pleasure squirm-inducing thriller

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There isn’t a whole lot to Johannes Roberts’ shark-bait thriller, “47 Meters Down.” The actors are middle-of-the-road. The plot is “Jaws”-light. And, because the illumination in the second half is so minimal, one can’t help but constantly search the screen for clues about what might be lurking in the deep.

Inevitably, we find out, because it’s big, has razor-sharp teeth, has lots of friends, and doesn’t care that you might have once starred in a Nicolas Sparks adaptation.

What it does have is a director who knows that even if the story isn’t terribly original, it’s the execution —pardon the pun — that matters.

The movie centers on sisters Lisa and Kate, played respectively by Mandy Moore and Claire Holt. Ostensibly, both are vacationing in Mexico at Lisa’s behest because, well, things aren’t as great back home as she lets on. Both are very different, of course. Lisa is conservative and grounded by routine, while Kate is the spontaneous party animal for whom anything goes.

One night while feeling mopey, Lisa is convinced by Kate to shake out of it by going into town for some good times. They dance and drink and get kinda picked up by two handsome Mexican guys. Maybe they’re locals, maybe not. Maybe they’re on the shady side, or maybe not. But, what they do is talk the sisters into doing something really crazy the next day: Go out into the ocean and get into a shark cage lowered into the depths. For fun.

Lisa, as you might expect, has second thoughts before they get onto the skiff that will take them out to the boat anchored in the bay. But, Kate can be very persuasive and before long, they’re donning wet suits and going over the equipment check list. In an odd bit of casting, Matthew Modine plays the Spanish-speaking Captain Taylor, skipper of the shark cage boat. 

Now, with all the back-story and exposition over with, it’s showtime.

Once in the cage and enjoying the thrill of seeing huge man-eating sharks swimming within feet of them and seeing firsthand what their bite looks like up-close and very personal, the sisters cement their camaraderie by experiencing something dangerous, yet safe. That is, until the cable holding the cage in the water snaps.

From here, the story takes on a very claustrophobic atmosphere. Lisa and Kate are not only trapped by a shark cage 47 meters (154.2 feet) down from the surface, they’re also trapped by the limit of time they have on their oxygen tanks and by the hungry sharks who charge at them from the dark like speeding freight trains with teeth. 

It’s a very unnerving experience. Even though you may be entertaining thoughts that this could be slipping rather well-worn territory, a few clues beforehand indicate that this might not end up like you think. Roberts isn’t about to let his audience remain comfortable in this thrill ride. He wants us to earn each bang for the buck.

My biggest quibble about this movie is the dialogue. It’s bad enough on solid ground, but once the sisters are submerged, their lines seem more suited for cartoon strip bubbles. The words “stilted” and “sometimes ridiculous” don’t even come close to describing it. Still, once you’ve paid your money you’re along for the ride until the carny yanks the lever.

“47 Meters Down” is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense peril, bloody images, and brief strong language

This film will be screened daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.

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