Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong in the best horror thrillers. “Storage 24” director Johannes Roberts’ suspenseful shark-swarming spectacle “47 Meters Down” (*** OUT OF ****) may not be as entertaining as last summer’s delicious shark derring-do “The Shallows.” Nevertheless, this hour and a half epic will keep you poised on the edge of your seat as you gnaw your knuckles in dread. Surprisingly, this raw-edged thriller almost went straight-to-video. As deceptively simple and straightforward as they come, “47 Meters Down” doesn’t pull any punches, particularly with its surprise ending. Indeed, this is not your usual summer movie where everything works out in the surf for the heroines. Although it doesn’t let anybody off the hook, Roberts’ eighth big-screen directing endeavor holds its characters accountable for their poor choices. Most summer blockbusters furnish a wonderful, guilt-free ending where all narrative threads are knotted neatly and everybody lives happily-ever after. If you think about it, “47 Meters Down” is the kind of movie that should chomp up summer audiences. Cast as older and younger sisters respectively, Mandy Moore and Claire Holt decide to swim with sharks to alleviate boredom. Ultimately, they wind up like those early western pioneers who tempted hostile Native Americans and had to circle the wagons to fight them off. Moore and Holt are the primary characters, with some peripheral characters, such as the boat crew that they out ride with to see the sharks. Otherwise, Moore and Holt try to work things out for each other under circumstances that would be terrible to endure considering the predicament.
Happily, the premise of “47 Meters Down” is simple and straightforward. Lisa (Mandy Moore of “License to Wed”) and Kate (Claire Holt of “The Vampire Diaries”) are spending a vacation in scenic Mexico. Lisa’s boyfriend has dumped her because he complains that their relationship lacks spontaneity. Kate coaxes her withdrawn sister back out of her shell, and they date a couple of local guys, Louis (Yani Gellman of “Jason X”) and Benjamin (Santiago Segura of “Hand of God”), for diversion. Yani and Benjamin tell the gals about a guy, Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine of “Full Metal Jacket”), who offers underwater shark sightseeing excursions. The gals descend into a shark cage just below the waterline to admire the fearsome majesty of Great Whites. No sooner have they climbed into the cage than one wants to take a picture of the other. Lisa takes a waterproof camera from Kate, but she accidentally drops it in the drink. The instant the camera sinks below the surface, a predatory Great White shark appears with jaws agape. The camera disappears into the shark’s gullet. Mind you, British director Johannes Roberts had set up the situation before this ominous accident with their two dates, Yani and Benjamin, hovering five meters below the surface in the same cage as Great Whites had circled them. Nothing happened to the guys. Initially, everything goes well after Lisa loses the camera, and Captain Taylor submerges them five meters beneath the surface. Lisa has second thoughts, and the girls are ready to come up. Suddenly, something goes haywire, and the winch holding them suspended in the water snaps. Trapped in the cage, the two sisters plunge to the bottom of the ocean. No sooner has the cage slammed into the ocean floor than the entire winch plummets and lands atop the cage. Lisa and Kate can communicate with each other because their diving masks are equipped with microphones. Deep down as they are, however, they cannot communicate with Taylor. Naturally, this is the point at which the heroines behave like foolish characters in a scary movie. Kate swims up 40 meters to communicate with Captain Taylor. Repeatedly, Taylor warns the girls to remain in the cage since sharks are swarming all over the place. Instead, Taylor says that he is sending one of his crew, Javier (Chris Johnson of “xXx: State of the Union”), down to give them replacement air tanks. Nevertheless, Taylor warns that switching air tanks during a dive can induce nitrogen narcosis which produce hallucinations. During their time on the bottom, Kate proves either her bravery or her stupidity. A shark almost munches her, and she scrambles to take refuge in a nearby cave. Eventually, Lisa leaves the cage, and she has a close encounter with an open-mouthed shark charging at her.
During one harrowing incident, Lisa and Kate find themselves in the middle of an armada of sharks. Roberts spends more time on creating suspense in “47 Meters Down” than dwelling on blood and gore. She is shrewd enough not to wear out her welcome, and “47 Meters Down” clocks in at a trim 89 minutes with little to detract from the eerie shark scenes. The first part of the story takes place on land as Roberts and co-scenarist Ernest Riera have the girls go out on a date with two locals who intrigue them about the shark cage stunt. Predictably, Lisa is far too timid to take such a dare. Kate goads her older sister into doing it so she can prove that she isn’t as boring as her former boyfriend has claimed. The rest of “47 Meters Down” occurs at underwater. Of course, none of those Great Whites prowling the depths where our damsels-in-distress await them are genuine predators. The CGI of the Great Whites is flawless, and “Stardust” lenser Mark Silk’s cinematography is appropriately murky given the ocean depths and prompts paranoia. Just when the gals imagine they are alone, a Great White materializes unexpectedly with cavernous jaws ajar! Although several peripheral characters inhabit this PG-13 epic, the action focuses largely on the sisters. These sympathetic souls never get a break, and you may experience anxiety as they deal with one setback after another. Just remember, no matter what happens during “47 Meters Down,” you must stay in your seat.
(Author’s note: if you enjoyed “47 Meters Down,” you should see the 1971 documentary “Blue Water White Death.”)