47 Meters Down: Uncaged has too many improbable shark escapes for its own good

Great white sharks can reach 6 metres in length, live for 70 years, and grow new teeth throughout their lives. But something few people know about these amazing predators is that they have impeccable dramatic timing, a skill on full display in the new underwater horror film 47 Meters Down: Uncaged.

Not 10 minutes go by without one shark or another making a run at the four hapless divers who have blundered into their submerged lair on the coast of Mexico. Sometimes they grab a swimmer, quickly and bloodlessly enough to preserve the film’s 14A rating. Other times they veer off at the last second, snapping their teeth or bashing into rock walls and tunnels. The film is set in an ancient, flooded Mayan temple, making Raiders of the Lost Shark a potentially better title.

But these cartilaginous creatures commit, they stay in character, they aren’t afraid to overact, and they always hit their marks. Sharks are the Nicolas Cages of the marine world.

Their human prey consists of four young women, two with Hollywood pedigree. Corinne Foxx is the daughter of Jamie, while Sistine Rose Stallone is Sylvester’s offspring making her acting debut. There’s also a minor character played by someone named Khylin Rhambo, but I think that’s just a coincidence. The other two are Brianne Tju and Canada’s Sophie Nélisse.

The plot is about as deep as the water into which they dive

The plot is about as deep as the water into which they dive, which is nowhere near 47 metres; the film gets its name as the so-called sequel to 47 Meters Down, released in 2017 by the same writer/director, Johannes Roberts. That one featured two different, unrelated characters in shark-infested waters. This reinforces the educational message from both films, which is never to dive alone; always bring a chum.

Nélisse and Foxx play half-sisters who along with two friends sneak into an underwater archeological site recently discovered by their dad (a game John Corbett). The catacombs, filled with skulls and statues, are equal parts beautiful and disturbing, but that balance gets upset when sharks show up and start chewing the scenery, and the actors.

What follows is a great deal of screaming, a lot of slow-motion camerawork, weird lighting effects (the site has been rigged with electric lights with a sense of timing almost equal to that of the fish) and fast-moving currents that rival the ones in Finding Nemo. I half-expected Crush the sea turtle to pop up and declare: “It’s the EAC, dude!”

But no such luck. Instead the film bludgeons its audience with so many last-minute escapes and improbable rescues that by the final 20 minutes at a recent press screening, critics were openly chortling at the unlikeliness of it all. And the characters are so thinly drawn – one’s been bullied, one’s a risk-taker, one’s sensible and one’s a Foxx – that it’s difficult to root for anyone in particular.

It’s not that I wanted the characters to get eaten, but if you were to ask me to place the ones in which I was most invested in the relative safety of a vessel we see bobbing offshore, I’d be blunt: You’re going to need a smaller boat.

1 star

47 Meters Down: Uncaged opens across Canada on Aug. 16.

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