47 Meters Down

Anyone who has cruised by this site, but especially at this time of year, knows that JAWS is a driving force in my movie life. Shark movies can be fun, stupid, exciting or irritating. Sometimes they can be all these things at once.  “47 Meters Down” is no Jaws, but it is certainly better than two of the three Jaws sequels, and as a summer diversion it is pretty much what you want for a warm afternoon or a cool evening with a romantic partner. You will get a lot of comparisons in this post, let’s face it, there aren’t that many shark movies, and those comparisons should help you decide if you want the take the plunge and spend your hard earned cash.

 

The two young leads in the film play sisters who end up on an off the books excursion while staying at a Mexican resort. The premise combines some of our worst fears. We are in a foreign land, trapped in waters that we cannot see through, running low on oxygen with sharks surrounding us. If you look up the word nightmare, most of this should appear there. The movie simply has to find a credible way for these events to play out so that we will be willing to endure it all. For the most part, things move as they might if this was a real story. After the set up, the girls are the only characters we actually see for the most part.

 

Director Johannes Roberts uses some dynamic photographic effects during the titles to create some foreshadowing. He and his co-screenwriter Earnest Riera build in enough complications to keep the time on the ocean floor dramatic and tense. Sometimes, as in most films of this ilk, the events seem to pile up just a little too much. It is true that we need some dramatic tension based on the environment, but every action turns into a complication designed to keep us squirming in our seats a few minutes longer. The dialog is also a little spotty. There are way too many premature celebratory moments between the sisters, and they sound odd coming from frightened people still trapped on the bottom of the sea.

 

I don’t know anything about diving, but the ability of the girls to speak to each other seems a little suspect to me, but it might be possible with the kind of equipment they are using. While I appreciate the choice to eschew events on the surface during the crisis, it means that we get a lot of long periods where the girls interaction feels a bit awkward. The scenario in  last years “The Shallows” made verbalized conversation unlikely, but the words spoken in that film felt a lot more real than what is happening here. “Shark Night“, “Bait“,  and “Open Water” all have different elements to them to keep the story going in each of those films, so I guess it’s not a surprise that the combination of events here plays such a big part in this story.

So for comparison purposes I’d put this on a par with “Jaws 2”, it is a shark movie with other things to distract us from the fact that the sharks are not constantly attacking. “The Shallows” is a much better movie, but then the lead in that film did not have to try to emote through a three paneled diving mask and radio mike the whole time. If you pay close attention to what is said in the film, you will see a bit of a twist coming from a mile away. The only surprise was how long they played it out. Some of the teens behind us were unhappy with the climax of the movie but unlike some other films this year, this ending felt more deserved to me. We have our annual big screen trip to see “Jaws” scheduled for next weekend, until then, this toe dip in shark infested story telling will do. It can’t sit on the same shelf as the Spielberg classic, but it fits in nicely next to “Bait” and “Deep Blue Sea”.

The Shallows

Back into the ocean for the second time in a week. This time the animated fish is not the friendly Dory, neurotic Marlin or sweet little Nemo. The costar of this movie is a descendant of Bruce from “Jaws“, a giant aggressive shark that is defending it’s feeding territory in the most violent way imaginable. While it is not a classic film story about character and class with humor and drama, as it’s progenitor was, “The Shallows” is an effective thrill generator with enough personality to keep us engaged and shot with the technological innovations of the last 41 years so that no one will be complaining about a mechanical shark.

Four years ago, Blake Lively was the most irritating thing about the most irritating movie I saw in 2012, “Savages“. She is a beautiful woman who could not act her way out of a paper bag in that film. In this movie, she has to carry the whole story on her shoulders and she was excellent. I doubt that anyone will consider her award worthy because of the nature of the movie, but before the Academy doles out another of it’s obligatory Meryl Streep nominations, they might want to take a look at this largely wordless performance. There are places where dialogue comes up, but 80% of the movie is performed by body movement and facial expressions and she sells the pain, fear and frustration of this situation without having to rely on words . To me, that is an effective performance.

If you see any of the promotional material for the movie, you will know the plot. She is surfing in an isolated spot and gets trapped by a shark. How this is set up in an interesting way and where they find the drama and tension in the story is the success of the screenwriter and the director. Writer Anthony Jaswinski finds effective ways to build a progressive story about a woman trapped on a rock. There are some good complications that make for some excitement, and the character gets to be relateable through some reasonably good set up before the first attack and then cribs a little from “Cast Away” for the character in the last half of the movie. I won’t give anything away but not all the performers are human.

The parts of the film that are most contemporary and therefore a little more likely to be dated soon involve the visualization of the social media world of today. Nancy texts her girlfriend who has traveled with her to Mexico but skipped out on the surfing part. Those messages are projected off her phone and onto the screen briefly. When she skypes with her sister and father back in Dallas, we get picture in picture split screens so that she can interact with the characters who are not really there. The director Jaume Collet-Serra, is probably best known for a trio of Liam Neeson action pictures in the last few years, “Unknown“, “Non-Stop” and “Run All Night“. They were all effective action flicks that required less style and more direct approaches, although each of them did have some key visual moments in them. To me, the best visual moment in the movie occurs before the first shark attack when we see the shadow of the shark in the wave that Nancy is surfing. It is a effectively shocking visual. I was a little less excited about the lingering camera as Nancy uses her earrings to try to close a gash wound in her leg. It felt a bit like that moment in “127 Hours” that everyone knew was coming, but at least it was over somewhat quickly. That was not the case with this film.

There are other people in the film that are attacked by the shark, so all the action does not focus completely on Lively’s character, but those other victims are so anonymous that it is hard to have the reactions we probably should have. We can be horrified but not necessarily empathetic. In “Jaws“, Chrissy, the first victim is someone we can identify with because of the situation and the way she reacts. None of the characters in this film get that opportunity, they are mostly chum for the blood and guts crowd. We will be startled but not necessarily horrified. Nancy’s battle against the shark is a different thing though. Ms.Lively has provided a sympathetic character who is assertive,  clever and resilient. She is the Leonardo character from “The Revenant” without all the mysticism. Replace the bear with a shark and I think, at least when it comes to action, the film works just as well and at nearly half the time. The high definition shots of surfing and the ocean from above the surface and below are reminiscent of the grounds eye view of the trees and the birds eye view of the forest that we got in that survival film set two-hundred years ago. The contemporary photography thoughj can at least get some product placement money from Go-Pro.

 

I wanted this film to work because I love a scary movie with a shark. It’s not epic as the grand daddy of all shark films is, but it does one of the same things that the Spielberg film did in 1975, it holds the audience. There was a surprisingly packed theater tonight and there was a smattering of appaluase  at the end of the film. This is a good summer movie for the kids out there on their breaks, looking for some fun and hoping to be scared along the way. At the end of the summer, I’ll bet it outperforms some of the blockbusters that the studios have lined up. Once again, we will get some proof that people can be entertained without aliens, explosions or super heroes. All it takes is a shark in the water and some smart film makers to make it happen.