Monday, June 19, 2017

In Theaters: 47 METERS DOWN (2017)

(UK/Dominican Republic - 2017)

Directed by Johannes Roberts. Written by Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera. Cast: Claire Holt, Mandy Moore, Matthew Modine, Santiago Segura, Chris J. Johnson, Yani Gellman. (PG-13, 89 mins)

Opening almost exactly one year after last summer's better-than-expected Blake Lively shark attack thriller THE SHALLOWS, 47 METERS DOWN had an unusual journey to the big screen. Shot in 2015 as 47 METERS DOWN, the British/Dominican Republic co-production was acquired by Dimension Films, who retitled it IN THE DEEP and planned on releasing it straight-to-DVD/Blu-ray in August 2016, probably figuring it could fool less-savvy Redbox customers and Walmart and Best Buy impulse buyers into thinking it was THE SHALLOWS. A week before the planned street date, Dimension abruptly cancelled the release after closing a deal to sell the film to the upstart Entertainment Studios, a TV production company looking to branch out into movie distribution and owned by none other than veteran comedian and syndicated talk show host Byron Allen, last seen hosting COMICS UNLEASHED when you woke up at 3:30 am and realized you left the TV on. Allen reinstated the 47 METERS DOWN title, gave himself an executive producer credit (he's one of 38 credited producers), and sat on the film for nearly a year before making it Entertainment Studios' inaugural multiplex offering. Review copies of IN THE DEEP had already been sent to media outlets and DVD/Blu-ray shipments had already arrived at stores the week before the August 2016 release date. Dimension recalled the shipments, but certain retailers--Target, in particular--broke the street date, so a handful of physical copies, under its interim IN THE DEEP title, were inevitably sold and have since turned up on eBay as collector's items, even though the film hasn't officially been released until now. It's good timing on the part of Entertainment Studios: shark movies are perfect summer fare, and while co-star Mandy Moore's movie career wasn't exactly on fire two years ago when this was made (she's not even top-billed), she's enjoyed a significant resurgence thanks to the huge success of the NBC series THIS IS US.

Lisa (Moore) and her younger sister Kate (Australian actress Claire Holt of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and its spinoff THE ORIGINALS) are vacationing in Mexico, with Kate going along as a last-minute substitute after Lisa got dumped by her longtime boyfriend for being "too boring." The sisters couldn't be more different--outgoing Kate is the life of the party while the more conservative Lisa is overly cautious and hesitant about everything. Kate convinces her big sister to live it up and take a chance after they meet Benjamin (Santiago Segura--not to be confused with the popular Spanish actor of the same name) and Louis (Yani Gellman), a couple of nice local guys who talk them into an off-the-books cage-diving excursion, chartering a boat captained by the Dude-like Taylor (Matthew Modine getting a paid vacation to the Caribbean), who lets tourists go five meters down in a shark cage to get up close and personal with the plentiful number of great whites inhabiting the waters. Benjamin and Louis go in without incident but while Lisa and Kate are in the cage, the cable frays and the boat winch breaks off, sending them to the floor 47 meters down. At a depth too far down to communicate with Taylor on the radio, with limited oxygen, sharks swimming all around the cage, and certain death from the bends even if they get out and try to ascend to the surface too quickly, there's no way out in the amount of time it will take the Coast Guard to mount a deep sea rescue.

Had director/co-writer Johannes Roberts stuck to this simple, intense premise, 47 METERS DOWN would be a front-to-back winner. The score by tomandandy is terrifically effective, the CGI sharks look surprisingly convincing, and Roberts takes a page out of the Spielberg playbook by not showing too much of them. Smart move. It's an exemplary nail-biter with convincing performances from Holt and Moore and for about 2/3 of its running time, it's looking like we might have a new gem in the shark attack subgenre. But that's before Roberts decides things are going just a little too well, forcing him to call a time-out so he can promptly shit the bed. Since the mid-to-late 1990s, when the shocking finales of films like THE USUAL SUSPECTS and THE SIXTH SENSE dazzled audiences (and you could maybe even go back to 1991's SHATTERED to see where the trend really began), third-act twists, no matter how absurd, have been become so commonplace that more often than not, they aren't even surprising anymore. That's not to say good ones don't still happen, but Roberts (STORAGE 24, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR) isn't a skilled enough filmmaker to pull it off. It's telegraphed in a line so verbosely clunky that the only way you could miss it is if you were in the restroom. Why does a shark movie need a twist ending? They're sharks, not Keyser Soze. A good filmmaker executes a twist and leaves the audience buzzing and going back and replaying the events to see how cleverly the plot was constructed and realize just how you were manipulated and played. The twist of 47 METERS DOWN leaves you feeling like you just got your chain yanked for the last 80 minutes and you leave the theater only to find Roberts keying your car. I guess there's a fine line between executing a masterful plot twist and just being a dick, and 47 METERS DOWN has one of those twists where the wave of audience resentment upon its revelation is palpable. And speaking of being a dick, there's no need for the onscreen title of this film to be JOHANNES ROBERTS' 47 METERS DOWN. How much sack does it take for the director of STORAGE 24 to pull that move? Pump your brakes, JoJo. You think you're John Fuckin' Carpenter?

DVD packaging for the cancelled 2016 release of 47 METERS DOWN

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