GORE IN THE STORE
47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED ***
Directed by Johannes Roberts. Starring Sophie Nelisse, Corinne Foxx, Brianne Tju, Brec Bassinger, John Corbett.
UK / USA 2019 Certificate: 15 90 mins
Released on DVD and Digital Download by Altitude on February 3rd 2020
After humble beginnings in the lower rungs of low budget DVD horror (though the Sean Pertwee-hosted anthology WHEN EVIL CALLS had a certain tacky charm), director Johannes Roberts’ career has gone from strength to strength. The John Carpenter-influenced stylised suspense of hoodie horror F and unexpectedly sharp sequel THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT show a filmmaker en route to the big time, either in or out of the genre. In 2017, Roberts enjoyed a deserved worldwide commercial hit with 47 METERS DOWN, the shark-movie equivalent of a brace of small-scale survivalist thrillers (FROZEN, BURIED, ARCTIC, etc.) in which a tiny cast of characters are trapped in a seemingly inescapable, increasingly deadly situation and at the mercy of the elements. After almost two decades of post-DEEP BLUE SEA self-conscious CGI shark movies, here was a well crafted, intense feature-length expansion of the terrifying sequence in JAWS in which Richard Dreyfuss is attacked in a horribly inadequate-looking shark cage. Alongside Andrew Traucki’s THE REEF and the Chris Kentis’ modest but harrowing OPEN WATER, it entered the elite category of 21st century movies worthy of a Bruce The Shark award for services to oceanic horror.
Roberts’ sequel has a subtitle nodding to the shark cage confinement of its predecessor and hinges on similar oxygen-depletion dilemmas, but otherwise follows the familiar sequel line of going bigger. This means more characters, more sharks and a lot more shark-in-the-box jump scares – though it can’t reproduce the unrelenting suspense of the earlier film. It does, however, have an underlying self-awareness about its own elaborate contrivances and allows Roberts (following PREY AT NIGHT) another chance to indulge his fondness for incorporating innocuous 80’s pop into his high-peril movies: fans of Aztec Camera’s “Somewhere In My Heart” and Roxette’s signature tune “The Look” will come away satisfied. Plus, for balance, he throws in “We’ve Only Just Begun” by The Carpenters, itself a part of horror history thanks to its witty use in John Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS. If there’s a 47 METERS DOWN 3, here’s hoping Roberts has already had a chat with Deacon Blue and Transvision Vamp.
Motherless, bullied teen heroine Sophie Nelisse has relocated with Dad John Corbett to pastures new and is trying to fit in with a new crowd. She turns down the chance to see Great Whites in their natural habitat on a glass-bottomed boat ride – a sub-plot that could easily have been the main set-up of this movie – instead opting for a “chance of a lifetime” opportunity with her step-sister and two other girls to go cave-diving in a ruined underwater Mayan city. The backdrop gives this movie some strong, eerie production value with its images of submerged figures and ancient temples as the girls explore the catacombs, inevitably becoming trapped and regularly harassed by sharks adept at hide-and-seek. Once they are under, the sub-genre bodycount requirements result in other, more disposable characters showing up as the script – and pace – requires.
Clearly a whiz at maximising claustrophobic scenarios, Roberts also relishes the opportunity to stage a redo of the all-time great JAWS shock moment featuring Ben Gardner’s head. UNCAGED pulls off a couple of startling beneath-the-surface reveals in between endless variations on hokey crisis-dialogue along the lines of “It’s our only chance!!” and “There’s no way out!” Corbett, the most familiar face on screen, gets to replay Samuel L Jackson’s memorably curtailed survival speech from DEEP BLUE SEA in a sequel that tends to overdose on scenes of sharks surprising characters from behind – though the shark FX are competently done at this budget level.
The film’s trump card is Roberts’ obvious, mischievous, dark sense of humour. The relentless peril faced by the girls is taken to the level of blackly funny absurdity as the director amps it up to 11 (and then some) for a wilfully outrageous series of false climaxes and rescues in the last 15 minutes. The original 47 METERS DOWN pulled off a satisfyingly cruel fake-out ending inspired by THE DESCENT – and this takes the notion to its zenith, complete with inconveniently chumming fishermen and bitchy school pals afforded a ringside seat to our heroines’ potential gory deaths. Ultimately Roberts sacrifices the (relatively) restrained intensity of the original in favour of crowd-pleasing narrative shark-jumping – but it’s infectious, handled with flair and never dull.